KU Leuven: Faculty of Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences awards an honorary doctorate to Tommie Smith and John Carlos

On Monday, November 18, the Faculty of Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences will award an honorary doctorate to the American former athletes and Olympic medalists (Mexico 1968) Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

“With this honorary doctorate, we want to pay tribute to the athletes for the pioneering contribution they have made to the fight for human rights and equality and against racism, injustice and poverty in society, through the power of sport”, say professors Christophe Delecluse, Jan Tolleneer and Mike McNamee, honorary doctorate promoters. “Their moral courage and their non-violent resistance in the fight against social injustice has been an example and source of inspiration for many for many years”, rector Luc Sels adds. “Their struggle is also inspiring for us as a university in our trajectory around inclusion and diversity.”

Iconic protest
Smith and Carlos made history at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Smith won gold and Carlos bronze in the 200m. At the medal ceremony, they appeared in black socks without shoes, as a symbol of poverty among black Americans. They bowed their heads and raised their black gloved fists in solidarity for the Civil Rights Movement.

That silent gesture became an icon in the African American civil rights movement and in the struggle against oppression of disadvantaged groups in the world. This peaceful but unequivocal protest, six months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, made the Black Power movement front-page news around the world. For Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the consequences are dramatic: they are showered with criticism at home, receive death threats and are disfellowshipped as athletes. For them, this was the start of a life as an activist and as a role model for many generations, including the current ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.