Where athletics and activism meet
The ISSSSC celebrates and honors its athletes and athlete activists who have engaged in the fight for social change and equity. These stories embody the SJSU legacy of equity and social justice.
Demanding dignity and respect for sport and social change
Many trailblazing athletes whose contributions reach beyond the realm of sport have competed at San Jose State University. Two of our most celebrated alumni are are Tommie Smith, ’69 Social Science, ’05 Honorary Doctorate, and John Carlos, ’05 Honorary Doctorate. These brave men raised their fists on the medal stand during the Mexico City 1968 Summer Olympics, drawing international attention to athlete activism and the core goals of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). Harry Edwards, ’64 Sociology, ’16 Honorary Doctorate, and Ken Noel, ’66 BA, ’68 MA Social Science, organized the OPHR in 1968 to challenge San Jose State’s athletic program and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to diversify their coaching and leadership ranks. The OPHR asked a crucial question: Why should student-athletes compete for universities and organizations where they cannot also work? Keep scrolling to learn more about the historic OPHR boycott.
The Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) Boycott
Harry Edwards and Ken Noel founded the OPHR at San Jose State in 1967 to advocate for a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. As Edwards wrote in The Black Scholar in 1979, “the project had four main objectives: 1.) To stage an international protest of the persistent and systematic violation of black people’s human rights in the United States; 2.) To expose America’s historical exploitation of black athletes as political propaganda tools in both the national and international arenas; 3.) To establish a standard of political responsibility among black athletes vis-a-vis the needs and interests of the black community, and to devise effective and acceptable ways by which athletes could accommodate the demands of such responsibilities; and 4.) To make the black community aware of the substantial ‘hidden’ dynamics and consequences of their sports involvement.” Members of the OPHR maintained that the Olympic boycott would proceed unless white minority ruled South Africa and Rhodesia were uninvited from the Olympic games, Muhammad Ali's boxing title was restored, Avery Brundage 's (the then president of the International Olympic Committee) resignation, and the hiring of more African American coaches. Though these demands were not met, the movement gave OPHR athletes such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos a platform to voice their concerns about the status of human rights, both in the U.S. and around the world.
You may be familiar with the iconic image of Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists during the Mexico City Olympics, but do you know about Speed City? Speed City was the name for the SJSU athletic program that fostered talented and driven athletes in the post-World War II era. Between 1941 and 1970, with the innovative coaching techniques of Lloyd “Bud” Winter, 91 Spartans were ranked in the top 10 worldwide by Track and Field News, 27 Spartans were Olympians and the men’s track and field team won the NCAA title in 1969. In addition to being at the top of their game, Speed City athletes went on to raise global consciousness of the struggle for racial and social equality through the Olympic Project for Human Rights, later becoming human rights advocates, teachers, coaches and mentors both locally and internationally.
First Integrated Championship Team
Over fifty years ago, on November 26, 1962, the Spartans became the first integrated cross-country team to win the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I title. Though the team trained and competed as one, black athletes Davis and Tucker faced housing discrimination on the road. Fifty years after the team broke the NCAA record, Davis returned to SJSU as head coach of men’s and women’s cross country. Having an integrated team—let alone a successful one—was truly groundbreaking and continues to be a source of inspiration.
A Historic Moment
This iconic image of the panelists came from our January, 24, 2017 townhall. It is a recreation of a historic 1967 image of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, and a number of other athlete-activists who had come together in support of Muhammad Ali.
More Pioneering Spartans
Discover important work other Spartan athletes have done to further social justice and equity in America and around the world.
Marcos Breton, '86 Journalism
Sacramento Bee columnist and Baseball Hall of Fame voter Marcos Breton, co-authored three books examining the Latino experience in Major League Baseball.
Lee Evans, '70 Physical Education
Lee Evans is a two-time Olympic gold medalist who fought to exclude apartheid Rhodesia from the 1972 Games.
Juli Inkster is a three-time collegiate All-American golfer. She is the first woman since 1934 to win three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles.
Patty Sheehan, ’80 Kinesiology
Patty Sheehan is a professional golfer, member of the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame and one of the first openly gay professional golfers.
Bill Walsh, ’55 BA, ’59 MA Education
The late Mr. Walsh was a three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach who advocated for positive race relations and diverse sports hiring practices.
Peter Ueberroth, '59 Management, '86 Honorary Doctorate
Peter Ueberroth, former MLB commissioner, addressed social issues in MLB in the aftermath of former player and executive Al Campanis’ racist remarks on “Nightline” in 1987. As CEO of the 1984 Olympic Games, he created the business model for the modern Olympic Games.
Yosh Uchida, '47 Biological Science, '04 Honorary Doctorate
San José State’s legendary judo coach built SJSU’s program into a national powerhouse after serving in a segregated unit in World War II while his own family members were held in internment camps.