Being a Hero
Updated: Nov 4, 2017
I finally met Tommie Smith years after I published a book about him. The book, my first, Not the Triumph but the Struggle, wasn't an oral history with Smith about his historic black power action at the Mexico City Olympic Games in 1968. It was about the impact of the gesture, what it represented, how it was digested by the millions who saw it, and what its legacy has been. In a moment when Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed and the NFL debates the rights and
privileges of its athletes and the First Amendment, the anniversary of what Tommie Smith and John Carlos -- October 16, 1968 -- in their moment of limelight looms large. And I think about Kaepernick and his stance -- those who support him and those who do not -- and wonder how long he will remain front and center of the debate about sports and politics. Because one of the things I remember clearly about finally meeting Tommie (over enormous sandwiches at New York City's famed but now defunct Carnegie Deli) is how I kept thinking about what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about heroes:
A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.