Landmarks and Legacy of Athlete Activism

This October is the 50th anniversary of a defining moment in athlete activism and San Jose State history. During the 1968 Olympic Games, Tommie Smith, ’69 Social Science, ’05 Honorary Doctorate, and John Carlos, ’05 Honorary Doctorate, raised their fists on the medal stand in Mexico City to protest racial inequality, drawing international attention to athlete activism and the core goals of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). At our October 2018 town hall, we reflected on OPHR’s 50-year legacy and its connection to the current wave of athlete activism.

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Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf played basketball for the Denver Nuggets, the Sacramento Kings and the Vancouver Grizzlies. Suspended by the NBA in 1996 for refusing to stand during the national anthem, Abdul-Rauf has also played on professional teams in Turkey, Russia, Greece, Japan, Italy and Saudi Arabia.

Nate Boyer is a former active duty Green Beret, world traveler, philanthropist and community leader, and former professional football player with the Seattle Seahawks. Following Colin Kaepernick’s initial national anthem protests, Boyer is credited with convincing the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback to kneel, rather than sit on the bench, during his national anthem protest.

Jules Boykoff, political science professor at Pacific University and ISSSSC faculty affiliate, has written three books on the Olympics, two books on the suppression of political dissent, and three poetry collections. His peer-reviewed articles span political science, sociology, geography, environmental studies and history.

Howard Bryant is the senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and and is the author of four books on sport and society, including The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism (2018). A former San Jose Mercury News reporter, Bryant has been a sports correspondent for National Public Radio since 2006.

John Carlos, ’05 Honorary Doctorate, is an Olympic medalist in the 200-meter sprint and member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Following the 1968 Olympics, where he participated in an iconic protest for human rights, Carlos pursued professional football and later worked for the United States Olympic Committee.

Harry Edwards, ’64 Sociology, ’16 Honorary Doctorate, is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley and founder of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Author of The Revolt of the Black Athlete, Edwards is considered to be the father of the sociology of sport.

C. Keith Harrison is the associate chair for faculty, research and academic affairs at the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida. A former NCAA scholar-athlete, Harrison studies student-athlete identity and professional athlete experience, diversity and inclusion related to gender and race relations, and marketing emerging multicultural demographics for fan engagement.

Spencer Haywood played professional basketball for the Denver Rockets, the Seattle SuperSonics, the New York Knicks, the New Orleans Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington Bullets. An Olympic gold medalist, Haywood sued the NBA in 1971 to challenge the required four-year waiting period for high school graduates to play professionally.

Paul Hoffman was the coxswain for the U.S. Olympic rowing team in the 1968 Olympics. An OPHR supporter, Hoffman gave Australian runner Peter Norman his OPHR badge to wear during the medal ceremony. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Hoffman earned a silver medal in the 1972 Olympics.

Cleve Livingston was on the U.S. Olympic rowing team in the 1968 Olympics. As a Harvard University crew member, he expressed vocal solidarity with the Olympic Project for Human Rights. He earned a silver medal in the 1972 Olympics.

Bill Rhoden, the former Peabody award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, is a writer-at-large for ESPN’s The Undefeated. He runs The Rhoden Fellows Initiative, a one-year program for sports journalists from historically black colleges and universities.

Kenneth Shropshire is the Adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport and CEO of the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University. Founder and leader of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, Shropshire helped guide the launch of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) in 2016 and serves on its board.

Maureen Smith, health science and kinesiology professor at Sacramento State University, is Sac State’s NCAA faculty athletic representative. Co-author of (Re)Presenting Wilma Rudolph, Smith’s research includes the experiences of African-American athletes post-World War II, South Africa and the Olympic movement and gender equity in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Tommie Smith, ’69 Social Science, ’05 Honorary Doctorate, set seven individual world records as a student-athlete at San José State, in addition to taking Olympic gold in the 200-meter sprint at the 1968 games in Mexico City. He coached track and field at Oberlin College, where he also taught sociology, and later at Santa Monica College.

Toni Smith-Thompson is a former college athlete and activist who is now an organizer with the advocacy department of the New York Civil Liberties Union, where she is working on the NYCLU’s efforts to reduce school suspensions and arrests, promote equity through school integration, improve implementation of New York’s Dignity Act, and affirm students’ First Amendment right to protest.

Marc Spears, ’95 Journalism, is a senior writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated and chair of the National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force. He has written for Yahoo Sports, The Boston Globe, The Denver Post, The Tulsa World, Los Angeles Daily News and The Courier-Journal.

Damion Thomas is the curator of sports at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He is the author of Globetrotting: African American Athletes and Cold War Politics (University of Illinois Press 2017).

Wyomia Tyus is the first person to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 100-meter dash (1964, 1968). A member of the Tennessee State University track team, Tyus became a coach at Beverly Hills High School, a founding member of the Women’s Sports Foundation and a goodwill ambassador to Africa.

Steve Wyche is a reporter for NFL Network, where he contributes insider reports and analysis and moderates panel discussions on NFL Total Access. An analyst studio host and senior writer for, Wyche has covered a wide variety of sports personalities over his nearly 30-year career as a journalist.


  • 8 a.m. Media registration
  • 8:30 a.m. Program begins
  • Introduction
  • Paul Lanning, CEO, Tower Foundation of SJSU


  • Mary A. Papazian, President, SJSU

SJSU Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change

  • Ted Butryn, ISSSSC Interim Director

Panel 1: The Voices of 1968

Olympians who both experienced and actively participated in the events of Mexico City in 1968 share their stories and the repercussions of their actions when they returned home.


  • Kenneth Shropshire


  • John Carlos
  • Spencer Haywood
  • Paul Hoffman
  • Cleve Livingston
  • Tommie Smith
  • Wyomia Tyus


Panel 2: Bridging the Gap: Perspectives on Athlete Activism in an Era of Growth

In the 1980s and 90s, athletes gained economic and social capital, but were less likely to engage in athlete activism. Athlete-activists and scholars discuss those who came forward to stand for social justice issues.


  • Bill Rhoden


  • Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf
  • C. Keith Harrison
  • Toni Smith-Thompson
  • Damion Thomas

Panel 3 – The Kaepernick Era

What is the social impact of today’s activism by professional, college and high school athletes against police brutality and social injustices, and the larger trend against the “shut up and dribble” sentiment? Panelists discuss how a 50-year history has led to a new wave of activism.


  • Maureen Smith


  • Nate Boyer
  • Jules Boykoff
  • Howard Bryant
  • Marc Spears
  • Steve Wyche

Concluding Remarks: The Arc of Athlete Activism

Harry Edwards lends perspective and insight on the waves of athlete activism to date, from the earliest pioneers to the voices of today, and provides his thoughts on the power of protest and what we can expect to see next in the politically charged era in which we find ourselves today.

Press opportunity immediately follows

Institute Events

Exhibit: “The Power of Protest”

Sept. 7 – Nov. 15, 2018 (hours)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, fifth floor

The exhibit will feature artifacts from the Dr. Harry Edwards Collection, the Speed City era, and the history of athlete activism and social justice advocacy. The collection includes historic photos, autographed books, Olympic Project for Human Rights memorabilia, correspondence from Dr. King and President Barack Obama, and more.

Co-sponsor: SJSU Special Collections and Archives

Free Film Series: “Athlete Activism”

Noon, Sept. 18 – Oct. 9, 2018
Diaz Compean Student Union Theater

This documentary film series will detail the history of athlete activism in the United States and globally, the events leading up to the 1968 Olympics, and the legacy of the Olympic Project for Human Rights.

  • Sept. 18, “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975”
  • Sept. 24, “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice”
  • Oct. 4, “When We Were Kings”
  • Oct. 9, “13th”

Co-sponsor: Associated Students and Student Union, Inc.

Student Research Fair

8-11:30 a.m., Oct. 15, 2018
Diaz Compean Student Union Ballroom

At this inaugural event, numerous undergraduate and graduate research teams and individual student scholars will present a variety of ongoing poster projects related to sport and social issues, while a contingent of other students will present posters in which they engage with the SJSU Campus Reading Program selection for this year, “The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World,” by David Zirin and John Carlos. The ISSSSC Research Fair will be opened by keynote speaker Marques R. Dexter, a third year Ph.D. student in the Sport Management and Policy program at the University of Georgia. Dexter will connect the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic protest with the current wave of athlete activism in a paper entitled, “Activism: A Gateway to Stand up for Humanity.”

Co-sponsor: SJSU Campus Reading Program

Town Hall: “Words to Action: Landmarks and Legacy of Athlete Activism”

8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., Oct. 17, 2018
The Event Center at SJSU

More Campus Events

Discussion: “The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World”

Sept. 6 – Dec. 4, 2018
Various times and locations

Discussion groups are planned throughout fall semester for the program’s 2018-19 book selection by David Zirin and John Carlos.

For more information: SJSU Campus Reading Program

Talk: “Know Your Rights! From Raising a Fist to Taking a Knee: Black Protest and the Price of Freedom of Speech, 1968-2018”

Noon to 1:15 p.m., Sept. 18
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library 225-257

Professors John Halushka and Edith Kinney will cover key issues in the civil rights movement.

For more information: SJSU Campus Reading Program

Discussion: Performance: “Music of the ’60s”

1-2 p.m., Oct. 11
Diaz Compean Student Union west patio

Featuring Grammy Award recipient and Professor Aaron Lington conducting the SJSU Jazz Studies Combo.

For more information: SJSU Campus Reading Program

Panel: “SJSU and Historic Social Justice Movements”

3 p.m., Oct. 16
Diaz Compean Student Union, meeting room 2B

Professor Scott Lipton will convene a panel including SJSU faculty and staff, alumni and community members.

For more information: The Associated Students Cesar E. Chavez Community Action Center

Concert: “Rooted Social Justice Music and Art Festival”

4-7 p.m., Oct. 17
Tower Lawn

Headliner Ruby Ibarra is a Filipina-American rap and spoken word artist known for focusing on her heritage and experiences as an immigrant.

For more information: The Associated Students Cesar E. Chavez Community Action Center

Legacy Month Keynote Address: Shaun King

5-7 p.m., Oct. 24
Diaz Compean Student Union Ballroom

American writer and civil rights activist Shaun King is known for his use of social media to promote social causes.

For more information: The Associated Students Cesar E. Chavez Community Action Center