2021 Tokyo Olympics
(Chaay_Tee/Shutterstock)

Protests for Social Justice Change and Reform To Be Allowed During US Olympic Trials

Olympic protests
U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward while extending gloved hands skyward during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meters run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. (AP/Shutterstock)

During a medal ceremony in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised their black-gloved fists to the sky as a symbol of the struggle for racial equality in the U.S. Besides making history, the pair also created one of the most iconic civil rights images of all time.

And now, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has announced they are open to similar calls for social justice and reform during the 2021 U.S. trials for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Usually conservative and unwilling to let athletes make political statements of any type, the group this year surprised many by saying that it “will not sanction athletes who kneel for the national anthem at the Olympic trials in support of social or racial justice movements.”

Lauren M. Johnson of CNN has reported that the committee recently released revised guidelines and provided examples of what is and isn’t allowed during this year’s games. Approved actions include “raising a fist at the start line or podium, kneeling for the national anthem at the start line or podium and wearing clothing that has social justice language such as ‘Black Lives Matter.’” 

“Athletes may also advocate vocally for their causes,” Johnson added, noting that actions not permitted during the Olympic trials include “defacing an American flag or engaging in racist or hate speech.”

In a statement, Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the USOPC, commended the work of the group’s Council on Racial and Social Justice, saying the group had “made it clear there is a deep desire for Team USA athletes to speak on these issues, and to lead as a positive force in our community.”

Hirshland also promised that her committee will “create opportunities through Team USA to promote athletes who do speak out and provide education through a town hall to create dialogue.”

“While we support your right to demonstrate peacefully in support of racial and social justice, we can’t control the actions others may take in response,” she said. “I have confidence you’ll make the best decision for you, your sport and your fellow competitors.”

While social protests will be allowed during Olympic qualifications, it’s not yet known what officials in Tokyo will and will not permit during the actual games in July. Whatever they decide, it will likely be very different than the uproar that occurred in 1968 following the actions of Smith and Carlos.

According to Johnson, “the entire Olympic organization, including the U.S. Olympic Committee, condemned [their] podium actions 53 years ago. The runners and their families were kicked out of the Olympics, suspended by their sport’s national governing body and received hate mail, death threats and continued criticism for their actions.”

 

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.

 

Latest News

5 Biggest News Stories of the Week: August 11

As the saying goes, the news never stops — but there’s a lot of it out there, and all of it doesn’t always pertain to our readers. In this weekly news roundup, we’ll cover the top news stories that matter most to our diversity focused audience. 1. Eli Lilly Plans…

The Importance of Business-Community Partnerships

Businesses increasingly play a key role in building stronger communities. It’s something that people in the past few years have come to expect. It’s created not only a way to improve local communities, but also boost an organization’s employee morale, loyalty and brand reputation. One of the main ways businesses…

CDO Series: Humana’s Carolyn Tandy

Following the murder of George Floyd, the role of Chief Diversity Officers has become more important as companies started to be more intentional with their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, which has made the last few years tumultuous for many CDOs. In the first interview of a series of articles…