“You can run…but you can’t hide.”
These words echoed throughout the Student Center Ballroom Tuesday evening when civil rights activist Tommie Smith spoke to a crowded room of students, teachers and coaches.
Most know Tommie Smith not by name, but by picture. The iconic photo of himself, John Carlos and Peter Norman is a staple image for civil rights movements across the world.
The trio led a nationwide protest on poverty and racial equality at the 1968 Summer Olympics after Smith won gold at the men’s 200m race. Little did they know the tremendous effect they would have on racial injustice forever.
“As a 19-year-old at San Jose State, I did not know what I was doing,” Smith recalled. “I had no idea that five years later, I would be an image for civil rights across the world.”
An image he would be. Not only did he make his mark on history, he led the way for minority athletes around the world to raise their voices.
In early 2016, Colin Kaepernick received widespread attention for a similar act of kneeling during the national anthem. His purpose was to bring attention to police brutality of young African-American males such as Keith Lamont Scott and Terrance Crutcher.
Many critics instructed Kaepernick to simply stick and football and enjoy his record-breaking seven-year $126 million contract. In other words, don’t use your extremely high profile to do anything except throw a football, win games and sell jerseys for the owners of the NFL. Owners of which have a couple things in common: they’re old white males.
A study done by the Philadelphia Tribune pointed out that of the 122 sports ownership groups in the four major sports franchises, there is one black majority owner among them.
This incredible statistic sends an eerie message to black athletes: just throw the ball, shoot hoops, hit home runs, and don’t worry about anything that has real importance in this society. Leave that to the owners, though an older white male feeling the sting of racial inequalities of young black Americans may be nearly impossible.
Tommie Smith couldn’t stand for that message.
Throughout his speech Tuesday night, he echoed the phrase “You can run, but you can’t hide” multiple times. Though he was a literal U.S. Olympian in track, the metaphor he was portraying was deeper.
Running was a sense of freedom for Smith. Any competitive athlete can relate to feeling “free” when competing in the sport that they love. But for Tommie, that feeling of freedom was short-lived because he had to return to a world that hated him for the color of his skin. For him, there was no hiding from that.