“You can’t be afraid to make a stand if you believe it from the heart. Don’t wait for tomorrow to do a job that you can do today.”
Fifty-two years on since arguably the most iconic protest gesture in sporting history, Tommie Smith has issued a rallying cry to the sport stars of today.
The Olympic gold medallist made global headlines at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968 when he performed the Black Power salute.
In a silent gesture seen around the world, Smith held the pose during the US national anthem alongside team-mate John Carlos after winning the 200m gold medal – protesting against the lack of basic rights for black people.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Smith, now 76, said: “A fist is a fist. It resonates throughout the world. It means power, pride and faith. It was my cry for freedom in 1968.”
The death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 has been the catalyst for worldwide protests – and the former Olympian said it was “surreal” seeing the same images he witnessed growing up in the pre-civil rights US.
Sport has often played an important role in tackling discrimination. And Smith says he is pleased at the number of current sport stars who are using their platform to demand change.
Some of the strongest anti-racism images seen in decades have come in the past few weeks. The resumption of the Premier League saw all 22 players, match officials and coaching staff from all teams on bended knee.
Dortmund forward Jadon Sancho unveiled a ‘Justice For George Floyd’ message after scoring in Germany’s Bundesliga.
And in the US, Nascar driver Bubba Wallace’s car is emblazoned with a giant #BlackLivesMatter logo – in place of the usual sponsors.
Smith said: “My part is never over until I’m over.
“Change is coming, and change is coming in a way that it should have happened a long time ago. We are going into an era where the world will be changed because there will be more people with more to say.
“With social media people can see the whole truth and not just a one-sided view. The technology which we are now blessed to have will play a big a part.”
‘Why is ending racism even a debate?’
Stars from a multitude of sports have delivered their own message in the fight for equality in the wake of Floyd’s death.
While Raheem Sterling, Lewis Hamilton and Anthony Joshua have generated headlines for their part in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, Darcy Bourne is name you’re unlikely to be familiar with.
However the 18-year-old England hockey player has gained worldwide recognition after attending a protest march in London in June with her sign saying: ‘Why is ending racism even a debate?’
“When I saw the video of George Floyd I was just shocked and upset. I am mixed, my dad is black. But that aside anyone with any empathy could see that video and be disgusted that someone else could do that to another human being,” she said.
After she was photographed at the demonstration Bourne’s image went viral, being shared by the son of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jnr.
“My parents actually didn’t want me to go the protest but then we watched his memorial service together and I told them how strongly I felt about the movement and why I wanted to go.
“It’s crazy, I wasn’t expecting my picture to go around the world. When Martin Luther King III posted it that meant the world to me because of the work he’s done and his father has done for equality.”
Darcy, who represents Surbiton at club level, has been selected for a scholarship at Duke University in the US state of North Carolina and says she received some alarming advice from a British woman who had spent a long time in the States.
“I was in a hairdressers just talking about it. And a woman I didn’t even know said she’d just come back from America. She is white, her husband is black and she was telling me I should be careful – and even said I should get a pocket pistol or pepper spray to protect myself.
“It’s a shame she felt so passionately that she felt she had to tell me I may be in danger because of the colour of my skin.”
‘Could George Floyd’s legacy be change forever?’
“Sport should be somewhere people of all types come together for nothing else but to watch and celebrate a performance,” says former world 110m hurdles champion Colin Jackson.
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One of the greatest British athletes of all time, Jackson says his sporting future was decided by what he felt was discrimination during his early years.
“When I was playing cricket as a kid I was captain of my school team. We got invited to try out for Wales. Five of us went, four got through to the national team and the fifth person, me, the captain didn’t. And I only saw one reason why, because I was black.
“And that’s why I walked away right there and then. At the time athletics had more people that looked like me so that’s why I went over to there. And maybe if we had more black people as role models across all industries, not just sport, it might inspire more people to try and get into those things.”
Jackson says he is optimistic about the future, and feels that a channel of dialogue has been opened as never before, with people more confident talking about their experiences – and also being listened to.
“I am really disappointed a man had to die for us to be in the position we are in today. The positive thing is that this is a strong movement from all races. The thing that excites me now is people can talk and people won’t roll their eyes like ‘here they go again’.
“It’s tragic of course, it’s a huge tragedy for anybody to lose a family member in any circumstance. But George Floyd’s legacy – he could have been born for this reason. His life, his death, his name is going to change the lives of so many black people across the world forever.”
Tommie Smith, Darcy Bourne and Colin Jackson have been talking to the BBC as part of the documentary BLM: A Sporting Perspective. It will be shown on 27 June on BBC World at 16:30 BST and the BBC News Channel at 20:30 BST.
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