Olympic Adventures: Meeting John Carlos

A few weeks ago, I read an article that said that John Carlos (one of the men that participated in the infamous black power salute incident at the 1968 Olympics) was going on a speaking tour in the UK. After flailing for a bit, I realized that the only London date that wasn't sold out was on May 29th, and I had a London 2012 Ceremonies shift that night. But I couldn't NOT go to this discussion, right? Right. So I withdrew from the shift, and on Tuesday evening, I headed to a movie theatre in Stratford to hear the wise words of an American sports icon.

I got to the theatre pretty early (just in case), and it was definitely unlike anything I've ever seen before. I mean, there was a bar there. So you could buy an alcoholic beverage (or tea, if you prefer) and bring it into your movie. This country, man.

But anyway! The theatre was pretty crowded, which made me happy -- I mean, I didn't really know that John Carlos was a big deal here. I managed to get a seat that was about third row center. It started with the moderator introducing himself and such, and then John Carlos walked out.

First impression? He's a big dude. Olympic athletes, especially track athletes, usually are, so I'm not sure why I wasn't expecting it. But he's seriously a giant.

Terrible lighting = terrible pictures. My apologies.

The Olympics actually factored into the discussion very little. It was really about him and his history and how he got to the point where he did what he did. He really stressed that his actions were standing up for human rights, not black rights, but it became about black rights because he's a black man. And he said "the Olympics' platform is human rights."

Growing up, he always thought everyone was a runner because his mother once chased down a purse snatcher and got her purse back. He idolized Robin Hood and thought of him as the first activist that he'd come across, and decided to become the Robin Hood of Harlem. When the police got word that he might be behind it, they confronted him and -- get this -- put him in touch with a track program.

In response to people who call(ed) him a troublemaker, he says that the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus Christ are all called troublemakers. "If they call you a troublemaker because you think out of the box," he said, "just remember you're in damn good company."

When the audience was allowed to ask questions, someone asked about his regrets, and if he would do the salute again if he had the chance. After all, his first wife killed herself because of the fallout from it. But he said, "I was born to do that." I think it's awesome that he's just owning it. No regrets. He felt that strongly about his cause.

He also started the discussion by saying, "If I'm an icon, than everyone in this audience is an icon. I'm you." Proof that a normal guy doing what he feels is right can change the world.

Something else that really stuck with me is what he said about Peter Norman. 'Who?' you ask? The white guy on the podium in the picture. I always thought that he'd had no idea what was going on and looked slightly awkward and out of place, but I couldn't have been more wrong. He borrowed one of the Americans' patches for the Olympic campaign for human rights and wore it on his jumpsuit while receiving his medal. He told the two of them that he supported their cause and, because the environment in his native Australia at the time was akin to that in South Africa, faced a lot of trouble when he returned home. John Carlos was just gushing respect for him, and it was amazing.

After the talk ended, he literally ran out of the room, and I was prepared to write a disappointed blog about how I didn't get to meet him. But wait, dear readers! I was quite wrong! It turns out he was running to get to his merch table before the crowd. I hadn't really wanted to buy anything, but at the last second thought "YOLO!" and bought his book. It was £15 I really didn't need to spend, and another book I'll have to lug home, but who cares? It's now signed by one of the most iconic sports figures in the world!

I love when famous people are gracious about their fame. He'd mentioned that he hates when athletes are rude to their fans, because the fans are the reason they're successful, and he certainly lived up to his beliefs. He offered me his hand to shake, and asked how I was doing. And then I took a picture with him. :)

An autograph, a handshake, AND a picture? Successful day, man.

1 comment :

  1. I love the way you are making all of your dreams come true! :)