Olympian John Carlos Sees Echoes of The 1968 Black Power Salute In Colin Kaepernick’s Protest

Lead Photo: Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem on September 12, 2016. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem on September 12, 2016. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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When Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game late August, people called him unpatriotic, anti-military, and a slew of other insults. But the act of resistance has also earned the San Francisco 49er comparisons to 1968 Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Nearly 50 years ago, the two athletes raised their fists as the “The Star-Spangled Banner played.” A Slate article posited that Kaepernick could very well be Smith and Carlos’ heir. “It also represents the boldest display of athletic activism since that 1968 black-power salute in Mexico, especially considering Kaepernick’s subsequent manifesto: ‘I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.’”

Not surprisingly, Carlos – who once said, “If you’re famous and you’re black, you have to be an activist” – is fully standing with Kaepernick. Not long after Kaepernick went viral for peacefully protesting, Carlos spoke to The National and criticized the slow-changing system. Those who speak out against social issues are met with backlash – just as he was half a century ago. But he, along with many others of the 60s, helped paved the way so that activists in sports and entertainment could rise.

“I think he has a valid statement,” he said. “I don’t think he’s protesting against police in general. He’s protesting against the broken parts of the law enforcement throughout the country. We had many young individuals that lost their lives for menial crimes. They didn’t really do no major crime, and they’re dead nonetheless. We haven’t seen law enforcement try and make any corrections or fix the ills within their own departments. I think that’s what he’s trying to bring about – some sort of understanding, some sort of conversation, some sort of discussion to try and get these differences resolved.”

Carlos also defended the quarterback against critics who said that as a multimillionaire, Kaepernick shouldn’t speak about communities of colors’ plight. The sprinter reasoned that money doesn’t change the fact that he’s a person of color. And Kaepernick isn’t any less aware of what’s happening across the United States.

Carlos hasn’t just stopped at speaking favorably about Kaepernick, he’s also highlighting the quarterback’s fight on his social media pages. On his Facebook page, the header image shows Colin kneeling, with the words “We stand with you” prominently displayed. The same image welcomes you when you visit And his Facebook page also links to a T-shirt, so that others can show solidarity through their gear.

For Carlos, supporting Kaepernick is what’s right, but perhaps it’s also about not wanting him to feel alone. When Carlos and Smith rose their firsts in the 60s, they quickly learned how isolating taking a stand can be. The US Olympic team suspended them. His life became consumed by this moment, severing his marriage and plenty of friendships. “The first 10 years after those Olympics were hell for me,” he wrote in a Vox article. “A lot of people walked away from me. They weren’t walking away because they didn’t have love for me or they had disdain for me. They were walking away because they were afraid. What they saw happening to me, they didn’t want it to happen to them and theirs.”

Kaepernick’s life is certainly more under a microscope now than when he started in Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. Currently, he’s the 49ers’ backup quarterback, and he’s under such scrutiny that even his parents aren’t safe. A USA Today article, for example, points out that as Kaepernick continues to take a knee and opts out of out standing for the anthem, his parents “fly U.S. flag at house while staying silent on protest.” While these kinds of headlines seemingly exist to stir up drama, Kaepernick is not alone.

This week, his jersey became the No. 1 seller, jumping 19 spots in the process, according to Fortune. He also inspired Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Reign FC to take a knee before a game. And this movement is seemingly gaining more momentum. During the NFL season opener on Thursday, Denver Bronco Brandon Marshall also chose to not take part in the national anthem.