The Power of Love

Tommie Smith (Gold), Peter Norman (Silver) , John Carlos (Bronze)

“While events are happening, we cannot know whether, in time, they will turn out to be fortunate or unfortunate for us. So many situations that people had thought fortunate have, in the end, been the cause of their undoing, while trials have proved, in the long-term, to be very beneficial! So we cannot judge happiness or misfortune at the time; we have to wait before we can decide.
So, when you are faced with a situation, pleasant or painful, make a habit of telling yourself that happiness could be waiting at the end of the road. Don’t waste your time complaining or rebelling; thank heaven instead.  In saying ‘thank you’, you free energies within you that will help you to face things. Yes, that is the power of saying ‘Thank you’: it tackles the obstacle as it arises, and when sadness, anger and discouragement are beginning to distill their poisons in you, it neutralizes them. What humans need most is to love and be loved, to give love and receive love. And the truth is that they have a greater need to love than to be loved. Yes, to love, because it is their love that makes them alive and inspires them to go forward. To love is the greatest source of blessings. This is why you must never prevent your heart from loving: love all of creation, all creatures, always seeking how best to express your love.”

– Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov

The picture above is probably one of the most iconic photos of the 20th century, let alone in sports or within the Olympic movement. For those of you who do not know the back story, it is a photo of two African-American 200 meter sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos and Australian sprinter Peter Norman during their awards ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics doing the Black Power salute. Smith and Carlos were active members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), an organization started by Berkeley sociology professor, Harry Edwards. 
Professor Harry Edwards, badass.

Professor Harry Edwards, badass.

 
The OPHR wanted to bring attention to the fact that quite often, the racism of American society spilled over into sports and the Olympic movement itself. When accepting their medals, both Smith and Carlos went shoe-less to bring attention to the plight and poverty of most African-Americans. All three athletes donned the badge of the OPHR but what happened next seared itself into to collective memory of the world. Smith and Carlos then did the Black Power salute, black-gloved fists raised, heads down while the American anthem played. What started off in a stadium full of cheers and jubilation suddenly went deathly quiet. Nothing like this had ever happened in Olympic history, using the medals podium as a political platform. In a year that had seen the assassination of pivotal figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and violent student protests the world over, the political fallout was immediate.

Smith and Carlos were kicked out of Mexico City but came home to a hero’s welcome among the African-American community in the US. Both received death threats for years afterwards, were professionally blacklisted, suffered terribly, Carlos’ wife committed suicide. Neither could hold down steady jobs and suffered economically and mentally for years. In time, their images became rehabilitated and both became vocal civil rights activists and remain so today.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage

Tommie Smith and John Carlos accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage

 
The story of Peter Norman is less-known but no less dramatic. This past week, a post by blogger Riccardo Gazzaniga entitled, “The White Man in that Photo “ went viral and I’d urge anyone who is interested in issues related to anti-oppression, anti-racism and being an anti-oppression ally to read it. (There’s also a 2008 documentary about Peter Norman produced by his nephew, Matt Norman called “Salute” which I’m trying to track down a copy to watch, but no such luck yet.)
From the blog post: 

Norman was a white man from Australia, a country that had strict apartheid laws, almost as strict as South Africa. There was tension and protests in the streets of Australia following heavy restrictions on non-white immigration and discriminatory laws against aboriginal people, some of which consisted of forced adoptions of native children to white families.
The two Americans had asked Norman if he believed in human rights. Norman said he did. They asked him if he believed in God, and he, who had been in the Salvation Army, said he believed strongly in God. “We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat, and he said “I’ll stand with you” – remembers John Carlos – “I expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes, but instead we saw love.”...But then Norman did something else. “I believe in what you believe. Do you have another one of those for me ?” he asked pointing to the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the others’ chests. “That way I can show my support in your cause.” Smith admitted to being astonished, ruminating: “Who is this white Australian guy? He won his silver medal, can’t he just take it and that be enough!”… Four years later at the 1972 Summer Olympics that took place in Munich, Germany, Norman wasn’t part of the Australian sprinters team, despite having run qualifying times for the 200 meters thirteen times and the 100 meters five times. Norman left competitive athletics behind after this disappointment, continuing to run at the amateur level.

Peter Norman later in life, with his 1968 Silver medal.

Peter Norman later in life, with his 1968 Silver medal.


Back in the change-resisting, whitewashed Australia he was treated like an outsider, his family outcasted, and work impossible to find. For a time he worked as a gym teacher, continuing to struggle against inequalities as a trade unionist and occasionally working in a butcher shop. An injury caused Norman to contract gangrene which led to issues with depression and alcoholism.
As John Carlos said, “If we were getting beat up, Peter was facing an entire country and suffering alone.” For years Norman had only one chance to save himself: he was invited to condemn his co-athletes, John Carlos and Tommie
Smith’s gesture in exchange for a pardon from the system that ostracized him.
A pardon that would have allowed him to find a stable job through the Australian Olympic Committee and be part of the organization of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Norman never gave in and never condemned the choice of the two Americans.

Smith, Norman and Carlos remained friends for the rest of their lives.

Smith, Norman and Carlos remained friends for the rest of their lives.


He was the greatest Australian sprinter in history and the holder of the 200 meter record, yet he wasn’t even invited to the Olympics in Sydney. …Norman died suddenly from a heart attack in 2006, without his country ever having apologized for their treatment of him….“Peter was a lone soldier. He consciously chose to be a sacrificial lamb in the name of human rights. There’s no one more than him that Australia should honor, recognize and appreciate” John Carlos said.
“He paid the price with his choice,” explained Tommie Smith, “It wasn’t just a simple gesture to help us, it was HIS fight. He was a white man, a white Australian man among two men of color, standing up in the moment of victory, all in the name of the same thing”.

There are many elements about this story which I find very compelling from a spiritual point of view. Like Aivanhov’s quote above, Smith, Carlos and Norman’s story really shows how you never really, truly know how things are going to turn out and really how if love is the motivation behind our actions, it can ultimately transform anything. That the rocks these three athletes shot into the pond that day, had ripple effects which we are still experiencing now. While all three endured suffering, economic hardship and mental anguish for decades, they refused to back down from their principles because it was the right thing to do. You just don’t see that granite-like integrity which Smith, Norman and Carlos displayed and lived through very often but more importantly, it is that very same integrity which continues to inspire us 47 years later, to keep pushing, to keep fighting for what is right because the struggle continues. The rage against the machine has not abated one bit, whether it is against race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious bigotry, poverty alleviation, environmental degradation, political occupation, or economic justice.
There’s a quote David Icke uses quite often in some of his presentations, by German Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.    
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

We’re all in it together, folks. Admittedly, there are not many examples people have these days for taking that kind of a principled stand. Everyone is so damn afraid of speaking up and putting their neck out on the line since everyone is obsessed with their own self-interest and selfish comfort so nothing gets done. Even harder now, I think with market forces, globalization and crazy politicians putting the squeeze on all of us, but I’d like to think that because souls like Smith, Carlos and Norman existed, there’s nothing to say souls like that have disappeared from this Earth.

San Jose State University has a statue honoring Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Peter Norman’s second place spot remains empty. It turns out that Norman did not want his likeness included in the statue because he said he wants visitors who visit that statue to stand in his place and feel what he felt that night.

That kids, is an example of someone who only wants to share his love.

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Categories: Ch-ch-ch-changes, Politico, Pop culture, Raise your EQ | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The Power of Love

  1. Wow! I’ve seen this photo many times and often wondered about Norman’s his personal thoughts (the Black Power “movementsssss” (yes there are/were many) often teach/taught that he was in opposition with Carlos & Smith) and were never truly discussed and/or disclosed. Very interesting that had been “swept under the rug” as well . . . who knew? Thanx EER!

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