She/he was pretty in pink — stuntman, Gary Connery that is. When he parachuted from a helicopter into London’s Olympic stadium last Friday evening, disguised as 86 year old Queen Elizabeth II, Connery created quite an impressive opening for the 2012 Olympics.
Unless you’ve been living under a molehill during the past few days, then you know it’s that time again. It happens quadrennially. Millions of people worldwide eagerly watch and talk about the Olympic games. Not me. I’m no sports enthusiast and I’m not watching. Occasionally, I’ll root for my home team during football season or, if the Williams sisters are playing in the tennis matches I’ll tune-in, but that’s the limit of my tolerance for sports. As far as I am concerned, a full week of 24/7 sporting events is overkill.
I made it a point, however, to watch this year’s Olympics opening, because after hearing about the excitement surrounding the opening in Beijing, four years ago, and later seeing some spectacular highlights on the news, I felt like I really missed an unprecedented event.
Some events are impressive, but — in the larger scheme of things — they’re insignificant; others are unforgettable.
Rewind to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
Black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze metals. When The Star Spangled Banner played, the two bowed their heads and raised their arm in a black gloved, clinched fist, Black Power salute. That action catapulted them into controversial history.
Smith and Carlos considered their gesture a show of support for human rights, but their deed stunned the stadium crowd and drew boos. And while the courageous duo were scorned by many in the U.S., they also garnered the praise of countless supporters, including the silver medalist, Australian Peter Norman, who supported Smith and Carlos while in Mexico, in their heroric strike against civil injustices.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Avery Brundage was neither empathetic, nor forgiving. He considered the salute by the two Black athletes to be an inappropriate, political statement. Smith and Carlos were stripped of their medals, suspended from the U.S. team, and banned from the Olympic Village.
Back in America Smith and Carlos and their families faced death threats, lost jobs, and suffered various retaliatory actions that sent their life into a downward spiral that included the suicide of Carlos’ wife.
Time may heal all wounds, but it sometimes leaves deep scars. And, 0ccasionally, it brings restitution.
In 2005, San Jose State University honored former students Smith and Carlos with a 22-foot high statue of their protest.
Peter Nelson, who had been a strong supporter of Smith and Carlos died in 2006 and his Black “brothers” served as his pall bearers.
On July 30, 2012, a documentary, SALUTE, produced by Peter’s son, Matt, was released in honor of Smith, Carlos, and Norton. I enjoyed the 92 minute film and found it to be a touching, timely, and a well deserved tribute. It is available on DVD, some cable stations, and Amazon Instant Video.