clock menu more-arrow no yes

The story behind this iconic Olympics protest

Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s 1968 US national anthem protest, explained.

The image of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City is an enduring image of silent protest. But the key to understanding it goes beyond the black-gloved fists.

All three medal winners, including silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia, wore buttons that read “Olympic Project for Human Rights.” The Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) was a coalition of prominent athletes formed in 1967 that threatened to boycott participating in the upcoming Olympic Games to draw attention to systemic racism in the United States.

OPHR founder Harry Edwards (center) with star sprinters Lee Evans (left) and John Carlos (right), 1968.
© Ted Streshinsky/Corbis via Getty Images

The group, led by professor Harry Edwards, ultimately voted to compete in the games and hold their demonstrations there, which led to the now-iconic display on the medal stand following the men’s 200-meter final. This act got Smith and Carlos kicked off the Olympic team, but it left a lasting legacy about making political statements through sport.

Watch the video above to learn more about the OPHR. You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. And if you’re interested in supporting our video journalism, you can become a member of the Vox Video Lab on YouTube.


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.