Blogtober Day 18: Peter Norman

Hey everyone! So, in the last week or so I've been getting comments, emails (!!!) and Facebook messages from family, friends and strangers alike about how much they like my blog. And I gotta say, I'm a little overwhelmed by all the love! While my blog is bigger than it's ever been, it's still comparatively very small and a place for me to let my nerd flag fly. So the fact that people are going out of their way to tell me I'm doing a job (especially people that aren't related to me and therefore, y'know, required to say nice things) is beyond words. If you're one of those people, I thank you from the bottom of my bloggin' heart. :) And if you're not one of those people, don't let the door hit you on the way out. KIDDING! (You're more than welcome to get hit by the door. Ba-dum-tsss.)

Since I'm feeling all sentimental, I thought I'd finally write about the guy who inspired this whole Blogtober shebang. Because if this story doesn't tug on your heartstrings, nothing will.

Hey, remember how there was a white guy on the podium during the black power salute? No? Well, you should. His name is Peter Norman and he deserves to be as famous as Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

I can't find much information about Peter's track career, other than that he was a five-time Australian champion and (obviously) an Olympic silver medalist, breaking the Olympic record in one of his early heats (that time still stands as an Australian record). So he was a great runner, but what you need to know happened after all of that.

After the medalists had all been decided, Tommie Smith and John Carlos knew they wanted to protest on the podium... but John had left his pair of black gloves back at the Olympic village. Peter was the one who suggested they split them and wear one each on alternate hands. But get this -- he wanted to support them but had no means of doing so, so he asked a member of the U.S. rowing team if he could borrow his "Olympic Project for Human Rights" badge. See that round white thing above the Australian logo on his tracksuit? The same one that both Tommie and John are wearing as well?

Racism was awful in 1968, and the OPHR was founded to protest racial segregation, both in society and in sport. But what a lot of people don't tend to realize is that racism in Australia used to be as bad as racism in South Africa; really, really, really bad. Horrendous. So because Peter wore this badge, Australia basically ripped him to shreds.

He was banned from track for several years, and was cut from the Munich 1972 Olympic team despite having times more than strong enough to qualify him. He retired from track immediately afterwards, and eventually suffered from depression, alcoholism and bad health (but ended up recovering from all three). When the Olympics returned to Australia in 2000, even though Peter had been one of Australia's top sprinters, he wasn't invited to attend or take part in any way. When the USOC heard, they flew him to Sydney as part of the American delegation, and "track legends Ed Moses and Michael Johnson treated him like a hero." (See, America? We do some things right.)

Peter died of a heart attack in 2006, and both Tommie Smith and John Carlos delivered eulogies at the funeral and helped carry his coffin. U.S. Track and Field declared the day of his death to be Peter Norman Day; it was the first time this honor had ever been bestowed on a foreign athlete. And it wasn't until 2012 that the Australian parliament offered a formal apology for the way he was treated, and the Australian Olympic Committee did not support the motion.

Athletically, Peter was a complete dark horse for the Olympics and ended up blowing everyone's expectations out of the water. So there's that.

There's also this:
So Carlos and Smith went to Norman and asked him if he believed in human rights. Norman said yes. They asked him if he believed in God. Norman said yes. They told him what they intended to do on the stand and how they were sure that it was the most important thing they would do at the Olympics. Norman said four words that Carlos and Smith would never forget. He said, "I'll stand with you."
And this:
 "I believe that every man is born equal and should be treated that way," Norman told reporters after the [medal] ceremony.
Just a white Australian dude supporting the protest of a couple of black Americans and having his life destroyed for it.

But while Peter's story is incredibly sad, it's also an amazing story of a man brave enough to stand up for what he believed was right despite all consequences, and of relationships forged across continents and cultural barriers based on respect.

Whew, that got a little heavy there. Just trying to spread some love to counteract all the hate he experienced during his life. But tongue will be firmly back in cheek tomorrow, I promise! Oh, and to end on a super positive note...

Read that post here!
*squeals uncontrollably*

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  1. How about compiling your blogtobers into a book? It would make an extraordinary gift for the holidays.