Chat with Tommie Smith
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, former Olympic sprinter Tommie Smith stops by to chat as part of ESPN.com's tribute to Black History Month.
At the 1968 Summer Olympics, Smith broke the world and Olympic records with a time of 19.83 seconds and became the 200-meter Olympic champion. Smith and fellow American medal winner John Carlos stood on the victory podium and raised a clinched fist, covered in a black leather glove in a historic stand for human rights.
Since his protest, Tommie has been inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, the California Black Sports Hall of Fame, the Bay Area Hall of Fame, the San Jose State University Sports Hall of Fame and in 1999 won the Sportsman of the Millennium Award.
Send your questions now and join Smith Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. ET!
Buzzmaster (3:20 PM)
Tommie Smith, former world record holder in the 200 meters and 1968 Olympic gold medalist, will be here at 3:30 p.m. ET to take your questions!
Buzzmaster (3:31 PM)
Tommie is here!
Tommie, do you think your height helped you become an elite sprinter?
Tommie Smith (3:32 PM)
Height can help or hurt, it depends on how you study the body. Also, working out for the power of those apendages is also very important. I used my height as a proactive type of my speed. Just as a big truck uses its gears.
Tommie, do you think today's athletes are as vocal about social events as they should be?
Tommie Smith (3:33 PM)
No. Without a doubt, the athletes are not as positive about the future as we were. Today, money is one of the reasons that they are not outspoken. Because of the contracts.
Mr. Smith, can you talk about what was going through your mind standing on that podium? Did you and John ever second guess what you were doing?
Tommie Smith (3:34 PM)
During that particular time, there was no second guessing, because our moves were very well thought out. They were problematic, but because we were thinking athletes, we ruled out all negativity. Once we made that decision, that was one that would last forever.
Chuck (Sout Carolina)
What do you think about how far the sport has come from when you won gold to now?
Tommie Smith (3:35 PM)
Chuck, I'll be honest with you, the sport has evolved. For the better, I think. But the athletes are getting paid and that's their only security in life. The evolution has been positive for the athletes and I hope it continues, as long as they understand that they need to give back. Good question.
Tommie, Do you think you were faster than Usain Bolt?
Tommie Smith (3:37 PM)
Our speed is about the same, but Usain gets to his top speed quicker than I did. My top speed doesn't get there until the straightaway. He gets to his before he gets into the straightaway. He holds his longer, because he gets there quicker.
What was the public senitment like after the what you did?
Tommie Smith (3:38 PM)
The public sentiment was not good at all. People did not know what happened. It was the first time in the history of any sport that the black athlete involved themselves in anything political. We were certainly outcasts when we came back, because our actions in Mexico were more than anything anyone else had done. Our future lives were hurt. But we endured because our whole soul and belief was that strong.
Did you give Usain Bolt one of your shoes before the 2008 Olympics? If so, you should get credit for his performances, right?
Tommie Smith (3:39 PM)
We did exchange shoes at one of the events. I gave him one of my shoes I wore in 1968 and he gave me one of his. We were two of the fastest athletes. It was his 21st birthday that we exchanged shoes in Beijing. He gave me one of his shoes from the Beijing Games.
Describe the hurdles you faced as an Olympic athlete during those times....
Tommie Smith (3:41 PM)
First of all, Peter, it was difficult, because of my childhood, I had to work in the labor fields and go to the school during the day. The precedence for a need to achieve and move on to the stand, it was continual work. Listening to my teachers talk about math, science, I was not a good student. I was bored. But don't give up. No matter what. No matter what people say or the boredom that you might experience. Have a feeling.
So Tommie, what are you doing these days?
Tommie Smith (3:43 PM)
Well, Terry, I spent 30+ years in education and I retired just a few years ago from California and moved to Georgia. I speak to children around the world. I deal with children and the education process. Obesity is one of the platforms I work on now. California, D.C., Louisville, New Orleans are the places we have locations in. It's called the Dr. Tommie Smith Youth Initiative.
Were you involved in any other sports besides running?
Tommie Smith (3:44 PM)
In high school, I was an All-American in basketball, football and track. Once I got to college, I had to put two of the sports away, because of the academics. I played pro football for the Bengals. At Oberlin College, where I taught, I coached football. I was the head coach of track and field when I was teaching in California. I have done a lot of things and been a lot of places. I still do this with the youth that I work with.
Tree Martin (Orlando )
Why do you feel it was so unpopular in that time for a person with African Decent to stand up for the Human rights of people that shared their same nationality. Also why does this only seem to get coverage in the month of Feb.
Tommie Smith (3:47 PM)
I had a platform. A lot of people did not have the same platform. Some people asked me why did I choose the Olympics, but that was my platform. There were some people that would have stood up, but didn't have the platform. When you do what you do, you make sacrifices. I have an autobiography, Silent Gesture, and it details that question. It identifies that question. TommieSmith.com also deals with that question. I hope the youngsters understand that question. It's a good one. You must stand for what you want and in the educational background. Don't let the system tell you that you can't do something or aren't good for something. You are.
How about Jackie Robinson...was he a big inspiration for you?
Tommie Smith (3:49 PM)
Jackie Robinson was a little before me, but he was a great inspiration for me. But they did not have a stand to stand on, even though their will to stand was just as strong. The '60's were a time of social change. It was the first time in the history of sports that black athletes stood up against the atrocities of human beings. Although we were definitely disliked when we got back on U.S. soil, because people didn't understand why we had to do this in front of the world. Again, Silent Gesture, there are answers to these great questions in that book.
Tommie Smith (3:50 PM)
Thank you for your questions. I know there are youth out there that are studying the history of this country and the world, continue your proactive measures. It's needed, especially in these days when people think it's worse because the economy is bad.