He raised a gloved hand, clenched his fist and bowed his head as the national anthem played. In that moment, Tommie Smith became one of the sports world’s most famous athletes of the post-War era.
It was often misunderstood. Smith maintains his “black power salute” at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City was a protest against inequality. Smith had just won the 200 meter gold medal in a record time. Teammate John Carlos was third. Together, they ascended the podium and raised their arms to the sky in a gesture some believed was out of place. Smith wanted to make a statement, but he says it was misconstrued.
“We were not Antichrists,” he said in an HBO documentary. “We were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country. I don’t like the idea of people looking at it as negative. There was nothing but a raised fist in the air and a bowed head, acknowledging the American flag – not symbolizing a hatred for it.”
Now, the gold medal he won that day is up for bid. He’s consigned it to New York-based M.I.T. Memorabilia. The bid starts at $250,000, and the sale is scheduled to close Nov. 4. The price, many feel, is more than a little optimistic.
The 66-year-old Smith, who now lives in Georgia, doesn’t need the money and he’s apparently not one for promotion–even when it could be of personal benefit. He declined comment to the San Jose Mercury News, which did talk to the auction house about a pretty significant collection of sports history.