the john carlos story with dave zirin

“I feel the fire about the way my heroes Malcolm X and Paul Robeson have become postage stamps. I feel the fire that Muhammad Ali has become a walking postage stamp, a man without a voice. I feel the fire that Dr. King is a commemorative cup at McDonald’s. I’m angry that all our political teeth have been subjected to a pop culture root canal.” (3)

“I thought about a world where I was encouraged to run but not to speak.” (111)

“can’t keep running’ away…”

of course this one makes sense right now. i read this at the same time as i read the baldwin collection, the pharcyde and sports have been circulating my mental, and i’m currently reading murakami, the first one since the first one-what i talk about when i talk about running. well, here’s what a runner’s talking about when he’s talking about running. i first saw this book reviewed on the now defunct sway magazine (RIP), where i was also hipped to the flava flav autobiography, which was just as enlightening on the american male psyche. is there a way to know that one moment in one’s life could become a defining one not only in a local sense, but a global and historical one? and who chooses which moments hold longevity-real or imagined?

“Malcolm didn’t speak like Dr. King or Representative Adam Clayton Powell or any of the church-trained speakers I’d ever seen. It was like he was blowing out my eardrums without raising his voice. He didn’t perform any theatrics with either his pitch or his tone. There was no showmanship in the man. His power, and the response of the audience, grew out of the fact that he was articulating ideas we were thinking about all the time but didn’t really have a language or vocabulary to express. For me, it was like he grabbed onto my frustrations and turned them into logic.” (29)

“I pondered what Malcolm always said about being true to yourself even when it hurts.” (120)

“I’m glad my old stomping grounds aren’t a war zone anymore, but I feel like I can’t go home again because my home is a memory.” (6)

“I had never been a quality student in school because of my dyslexia, but I studied the art of how to run a serious race until my eyes bled. You can’t overstate how important it is as a young man to get positive reinforcement.” (55)

as a young person, really, right? but the difference is that great men exist in our popular rubric and it is possible to share them if they don’t exist in our homes and our lives. what does a young woman do if there is no woman who exists to reinforce her growth at home and none to tap into in the world? i suppose we all find our way. and doesn’t the onion make us cry when we peel back the layers to see that those popular male heroes that we turn to and depend on to get us by also had to be self-made to get themselves by? or is it further inspiration and proof that we are our own design? god withstanding-i don’t intend to get into a discussion like that, but then i’ve always been more interested in fiction than fantasy.

“The problem, for them, however, was that if the United States didn’t get the expected number of medals and records, people in the USOC would lose their jobs. They needed us, they hated us, and they feared us all at the same time.” (104)

what athlete cannot identify with that on some level? what human with any job, degree, family who owns any kind of consumer good cannot?

“We now had the madness and little else. I was just a man who had to figure out what to do to fend for his family. The track was the only place where I felt a sense of peace. I can understand why Barry Bonds or Kobe Bryant did some of their best playing with controversy swirling around their heads. Your field of play becomes your refuge where the world makes a degree of sense.” (135)

so how do we explain lebron? was all the talk of him being better than jordan just enough for him to completely drop out? or did his big decision finally catch up to him? because looking back-it certainly branded him in my mind, and the constant unsportsmanlike faces (and ugly as sin beards) of his teammates made the team really easy to hate. did i just fall for the same binary formula that has worked in all of ratings (and sports) history? i watched the freakonomics documentary this morning (please don’t hurt me for not reading the book-i might still one day-and enough of y’all have read it) and the story about corruption in sumo under the guise of purity is resonating right now.

“We decided that we would wear black gloves to represent strength and unity. We would have beads hanging from our neck, which would represent the history of lynching. We wouldn’t wear shoes to symbolize the poverty that still plagued so much of black America. On the medal stand, all we would wear on our feet would be black socks.” (110)

“If you look at the pictures, Tommie’s fist and back are so straight it looks like he was drawn up with a protractor. My arm is slightly bent. That was because I wanted to make sure in case someone rushed us, I could throw down a hammer punch to protect us. We had just received so many threats leading up to that point that I refused to be defenceless at the moment of truth.” (121)

it’s like courage and opportunity operate in an inverse relationship. when the stakes are so much higher, why does it seem that people are more willing to risk? and when space has been made, why does it seem that we just fall all the way into apathy? or is this another construct to keep us in check, like American films that always only depict stories of racism and homophobia in the past as if in proof or projection that things are so much better now, although the outfits were so much cuter then? i’m just trying to imagine a protest of this magnitude on a global scale today, and i can’t-wearing your warmups inside out just isn’t the same thing-but perhaps i’m also forgetting that a “global scale” was not the same thing in 1968-not only would not as many people have access to witnessing your deed, the same amount of people would have no access to the proof that you may have been killed.

well, for whatever it’s worth-thank you, john carlos, for being and telling your story.

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2 thoughts on “the john carlos story with dave zirin

  1. “Whenever i hear about some celebrity grabbing the camera of a paparazzi and smashing it to the ground, a small part of me smiles.” (126)

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