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Five decades after his iconic protest at Olympics, Tommie Smith says he's still getting death threats

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Even as the International Olympic Committee does what it can to discourage protests at its events, the black glove protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics remains one of the most iconic sights in American sports history.

It also apparently remains a cause of death threats for the man at the top of the medal podium.

During a broadcast of “#NBATogether with Ernie Johnson,” Smith revealed that despite all that time and change since he raised his fist, he still receives death threats.

From Bleacher Report:

"I still receive death threats," the former assistant professor of physical education at Oberlin College told Johnson.

"Hold it, hold it," Johnson replied. "Dr. Smith, really?"

"Oh yes, that's very easy for me to say because I'm the one that read the letters; I'm the one that answered the phone; I'm the one that was on the streets," Smith said.

Smith then mentioned his wife also received death threats while he was at the Olympics in Mexico City, and was laughed out of the police station when she tried to report them.

Smith estimated that his most recent hate mail had come just two months ago.

FILE - In this Oct. 16, 1968 file photo, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos raise their gloved fists after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. The International Olympic Committee published guidelines Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020 specifying which types of athlete protests will not be allowed at the 2020 Tokyo Games. Athletes are prohibited by the Olympic Charter's Rule 50 from taking a political stand in the field of play — like the raised fists by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games. (AP Photo, file)
Tommie Smith has never regretted his protest on the Olympics medal stand. (AP Photo, file)

The death threats and hate mail were only part of the blowback Smith and Carlos experienced for the protest. Smith and Carlos were soon expelled from the Olympic Village after IOC president Avery Brundage demanded their suspension. They were later shunned by much of the sports community, and excoriated in the press. Even silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia, who supported the protests, saw a blowback in his home country.

Time has since been kind to the medalists’ protests with awards and recognitions for their protest, though history has somewhat repeated itself with the racial inequality protests of Colin Kaepernick. Smith has voiced his support for Kaepernick, saying it’s all part of the same message in an interview with The New York Times in June:

I said when I first saw it, ‘oh my goodness gracious, this young man is going to have a whole plethora of TV cameras in his face sooner or later.’ And there it was, all over, this disenfranchising, this ‘he’s dishonoring the flag, he’s not doing his job on the field.’ But he was only saying what I already said years ago. I said, my lord, it continues to happen. It moves on and on, but we still need to fight. We cannot stop.

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