Dr. Tommy Smith puts his 1968 Gold Medal up for sale!?!

Imagine its 2040 and you’re tooling around on the internet (Wow…what’s the internet gonna be like in 30 years???…but that’s another story) anyway…there you are online maybe checking for some new porn (cause porn is never gonna go outta style…no matter what)….and you read that former President Obama is selling his Nobel Peace Prize on ebay.

Gasp!

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I came across some information that made me gasp.
Dr. Tommy Smith was selling the Gold Medal that he won for winning the 200 meter during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico.
Many of you were toddlers in 1968 so if you need a minute to recall who Tommy Smith is, I understand…check this link…and meet me back here:

Back? Okay…so now you know that this was not an ordinary gold medal win…and it wasn’t the gold medal so much as it was the actions that went with winning it. This gold medal gave him (and the other winners) an opportunity to instantly reach an audience of millions – worldwide – with a unspoken message for all to see: AMERICA DOES NOT TREAT ITS BLACK CITIZENS FAIRLY! The gesture of the black-gloved raised fist while the national anthem played in the background was a source of pride for people of color everywhere and although the raised fist salute was not new, it instantly became the symbol for Black pride and Black power movements everywhere.
I was right smack in the middle of those times and it was by far the most courageous thing I’d ever seen. This brave act has stuck in my mind all these years so much so that in the interest of “passing it on”, a few years ago we arranged to have Dr. Smith as the keynote speaker for a Black History Program at a local hospital.

I remember that it was bitterly cold that February night and the streets were dangerously slick with ice but the people came anyway…hospital employees with their friends and families, neighborhood residents, and even a few of my online chatroom cohorts (some of whom I’d never met in person until that night). I guess despite the raw weather everybody realized that it’s not often that you get a chance to see and hear history – up close and personal.

Dr. Smith is a tall man (6’3″)… the type of man whose very presence fills a room. His voice filled the room as well as he shared with us the story of what happened at the Olympics and the aftermath. His story was very detailed and it wouldn’t be fair to you to try to retell it here. Instead I refer to you a line in the poem Invictus: “My head is bloody but unbowed”.

One of the young people there that night was an employee’ son. He was in middle school and on the track team. Dr. Smith called him up to the podium and offered him words of encouragement. I wish you could have seen that young man’s smile…it was lit up like the sun. It was a beautiful evening made even more special when I learned months later that Dr. Smith established communication with the young man and his family and made sure he always had the appropriate running shoes and running tips. What a man, what a man!

So now, you can probably better understand why news of the sale was such a surprise to me. How could he sell that medal?
Over and over I asked the same question until finally one thought came and stuck: The raised fist was a grand gesture, no doubt, but a gesture for which he had paid for dearly…over and over again…and not in a good way. I do not presume to know what is in Dr. Smith’ head…but when you consider the grief he endured after winning the gold, it’s almost safe to speculate that the medal doesn’t necessarily symbolize the same thing to him as it does to us.
Maybe he doesn’t need the medal because he has the memories. In fact, he has shared those memories with us in his book Silent Gesture which was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for literature.

It should be noted at this point that the sale offer of the medal has been taken off the market.

So…..although many of us will wonder why, only Dr. Smith knows the answer.
I have a question that we can all answer though…if you were in his place..what would you have done…and why?

by : peaches from bklyn

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~ by livefromheadqcourterz on November 11, 2010.

7 Responses to “Dr. Tommy Smith puts his 1968 Gold Medal up for sale!?!”

  1. i was surprised when i heard about this some time ago, and yea there are many ways to perceive this. and then i put some perspective, and it just comes down to mind over matter. you don’t need a piece of jewelry or hardware to represent what he did for humanity and spirituality..

    OH, and is there a modern athlete who would do that type of thing NOW??

  2. Thanks Peaches! Although I was NOT born at the time, I do know the story, and yes, I would sell it to, to the highest bidder!!! LOL

  3. Peaches, honestly I cant begin to put myself in his place because of the opportunities that have been made available to me…I don’t and never will have the same struggle. My struggle will be different but not non-existent. Maybe it was simple economics (I need the money); or bad memories (I’ve paid for that moment dearly all my life and the medal is a reminder); or the load is too much (living up to other people’s expectations of him as the one who raised his black gloved fist in silent tribute to the struggle). You get my point Peaches…there can only be speculation on our part, and to be honest I don’t like speculating especially about motivation…

  4. Life is about survival, & survival doesn’t always mean money. So, I would sell it if it meant survival.

  5. good story!
    to each his own. we don’t define him he defines himself.
    clearly he has knowledge of self and will not let the hardware define him.

  6. Gold medal or not,the image of the raised fist in the black glove serves as a constant reminder of African American’s past and current struggles. Nice post Peaches, but I prefer the your take on pop culture.

  7. I’m not sure what I would do. Based on the backlash and lifelong issues he has had to deal with as a result of this win/action, I could agree that for me, the outside person, the meaning is different. It’s a tough burden to carry and I guess at some time in life, my load would need to be lessened.

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