Allies (We stand with Black Lives Matter.)
We stand against systemic racism and with the Black Lives Matter movement. If you are wondering what you can do to get involved and make a difference, please click here for a list of resources and immediate actions you can take from the NAACP.
Over the past two weekends, we have donated 100% of our proceeds to the NAACP. We're grateful to our community for helping us raise funds for a very worthy cause.
We're also grateful to all of those who have shared inspiring stories over the past several weeks. Here's one we'd like to share with you.
The above photograph of Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith, Peter Norman, and John Carlos on the medal podium after the final of the 200m sprint at the 1968 Olympics is Mexico City by John Dominis is iconic. Smith and Carlos had won gold and bronze for the United States that morning, and at the ceremony they received their medals shoeless to protest black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf to represent black pride; Carlos wore beads around his neck, in his words, “for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred; for those thrown off the side of the boats in the Middle Passage." As the Star-Spangled Banner played, the two bowed their heads and raised a gloved fist.
On their tracksuits they wore the “banned” circular badges of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), an organization founded by sociologist Harry Edwards to protest racial segregation in the U.S., South Africa, and elsewhere; to protest racism in sport generally; and to call for a number of concrete actions including the banning of South Africa and Rhodesia from the Games; the restoration of Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight boxing title; the removal of Avery Brundage from the IOC committee; and the hiring of more African American coaches.
Norman - the silver medalist and a white Australian - also wore the highly controversial OPHR badge on his tracksuit in solidarity with Smith and Carlos. The two American medalists told Norman - who was raised in a Salvation Army family and had criticized the “White Australia” movement in his home country - about their plan earlier that day, after the final. Norman, without hesitating, agreed to stand with them in support. All three athletes were booed off of the podium, and all three faced widespread censure and criticism from both the sporting establishment as the media, as well as threats, upon returning to their homes.
What many don’t know is that Peter Norman was given his famous badge by the American rowing coxswain, Paul Hoffman. Hoffman and many of his teammates from the American eight-man crew - all of them Harvard students - were followers of Edwards and active supporters of the OPHR. They sent hundreds of hand-written letters to other members of the U.S. team in other sports, encouraging them to take a public stand against racial injustice. “If you are in sports,” Hoffman said, “you have an obligation to use whatever platform you have.” These actions were not well-received, and the crew was formally censured by the president of the USOC, Douglas Roby.
Rowing has an encouraging history of ally ship, and we love the story of Hoffman and his teammates, and their small role in the powerful moment created by Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Peter Norman so many years ago. But rowing in the United States it is still a predominantly white, privileged sport. As part of the rowing community, and during this moment of reckoning for our nation, we want to applaud and recognize the athletes who are using their platforms — and organizations like Row New York who are making the sport a more diverse place.
(Thank you to our friend, World Champion rower Grace Latz for sharing this story.)