Q: Congratulations on your book. Why did
you wait almost 40 years to tell your story?
A: My life wasn’t ready to be told in story until there was a closure with my athletic,
teaching, and coaching career. The time I needed to devote to such an adventure was too
great. You have to begin somewhere to be great. The race began in 1968 and now it is
time to tell the journey of "how did I get to this race, and where did I go when it was
Q: You say you "never regretted" your actions
on the victory stand, "and never will"—that it was, as you write—"something
I felt I had no choice in doing." Did you think at the time that your
protest would become one of the most famous protests in sports history?
A: I do not feel remorseful about the act on the
victory stand as it was an act of "faith." Because I believe in "hope"
for our changing society, the evidence of non-equality had to be
challenged. At the time, my "visual" on the victory stand was not
thought of as a portrait to be classified as a picture of history,
but as a cry for freedom.
Q: Do you think that such a protest could take place now?
A: Making the same gesture now is defeat; let us repeat the
cry with sounds of understanding and deliverance.
Q: Can you briefly describe the Olympic Project
for Human Rights and discuss your participation in it?
A: The Olympic Project for Human Rights was a
non-violent platform used in the athletic arena as a cry for freedom.
It originated on the San Jose State University campus in 1967. I was
one athlete who chose to involve myself for the human rights issues.
Q: You and your family received death threats and
hate mail before and after Mexico City. Were you prepared for this? How did
you handle living in fear?
A: My family received hate mail and death threats
which altered our daily routine, but we had to continue to remain calm
and socially aware. There are still some [people] who do not change and
there are some who have made progress.
Q: You have been "forever linked" with John Carlos
(Bronze medal winner at the 1968 Mexico City games) on and off since the Olympics.
How has your relationship with him been over the years since your "silent gesture"?
A: I had not known John Carlos until my senior year in college, in 1967.
Since then, my response to John has been a respectful acquaintance.
Q: You talk about how San Jose State welcomed you
back and dedicated a statue to you and John Carlos. How have attitudes
towards you—and your actions—changed over time?
A: When I returned to the San Jose State University for the statue dedication, attitudes were fresh, warm and respectful.
The student body and administration was knowledgeable and unafraid in
their quest to identify pioneers from the past and ideally, former
students such as John Carlos and me.
Q: You have worked as a track & field coach
and talk about your coaches in Silent Gesture. Do you have any particular
mentors and coaches that influenced you?
A: There are two coaches in my past that I will
forever remember because of their knowledge and their social attitude.
They were positive "in the time of need." Lloyd C. "Bud" Winter,
my college coach and Bill Walsh, my professional football area coach
with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Q: Silent Gesture dispels the rumors that you
were a member of the Black Panthers. Your book also clears the record
that the Mexico City Olympic Committee did not take for your medals
back, or throw you out of the Olympic Village. Can you discuss these
A: Tommie Smith has never been a Black Panther.
I am still in possession of my gold medal—I won the race fair and
square, and so the medal is mine. I stayed in the Olympic Village
until the race was over, and I returned the next day to get my belongings.
As I was leaving, the press was everywhere, so kicking me out of
the Olympic Village was a "helpful exit."
Q: I understand at one point in time you
were interested in selling your medals. Is that true? Why did you consider this?
A: I will answer a question with a question…Can
you find a Humanitarian donor for $500,000?
Q: You are a hero to many for your actions—who
were your heroes?
A: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who had a
Dream of Freedom and Equality, and my father, Richard Smith, who
taught me pain is obvious, but how you react is not.
Q: What do you think your legacy will be?
A: I want to leave a legacy that says, "Tommie Smith
was a Man who also had a Dream and a Vision and his Standing was not in vain."