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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

‘The Stand’ — a perfect blend of sports and politics

Image source: Link TV
Image source: Link TV

Actions speak louder than words, and it is often those actions that are written down for the history books — or better yet, photographed. Ripe from the tumultuous times of 1968, there stands an image from the Mexico City Olympic Summer Games that has and likely will continue to stand the test of time. This image is the unforgettable portrait of the peaceful protest of United States 200m athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal podium with their fists raised in the air in solidarity for the Black struggle. 

The story behind this defining moment in sports history was the subject of “The Stand: How One Gesture Shook the World,” which played at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on Tuesday. Those in attendance were treated to a powerful documentary about the struggle for civil rights. The film shows how these brave athletes sacrificed their careers and livelihoods in one moment that came to serve as a cultural image for a poignant movement that persists to this day.  

Personally, I thought this documentary was a perfect blend of history and sports and demonstrated the undeniable interconnectedness between the world of sports and the outside politics that affect that world. In terms of protests in sports, this is the granddaddy of them all, the place where it all started and arguably the action with the most lasting impact. Even though this protest took place so long ago, there is a clear line of heritage from Smith and Carlos with their gloved fists in the air, to Lebron James — or even before him, to Colin Kaepernick who knelt in protest during the national anthem. While your crazy uncle may want to burn Kaepernick or James at the stake for being “liberal sellouts” or “(insert a demeaning term here),” I couldn’t help but imagine the reaction to two Black men doing something of this nature in 1968, on an international stage, with the whole world watching.  

While watching “The Stand,” I felt like I could have been in my living room, on a couch at home with popcorn in hand, but at the same time, I became more and more cognizant of the consequences of the racial protests that I have evidenced in my lifetime. This documentary provided me with a deeper understanding of the power and role of the Black athlete in America, while also giving me a rich context of the importance of athletes to use their platforms. 

The nature of a protest like this should not be under contest as often as displays of solidarity involving the national anthem generally are. Additionally, the layers of symbolism wrapped into the way the Black athletes came out to the podium were incredible, for every part of their appearance was representative of a part of the plight of the Black American. Among many things, they wore no shoes to represent the poverty of Black America and black winter gloves to show the strength of Black solidarity.

The nature of this documentary left me awestruck at the impact that one action of protest can have on a movement and the greater population as a whole. This film perfectly marries the nature of politics and sport in the civil rights movement, or in other words, a fight that shouldn’t be political. If you are interested in a stirring documentary about this definitive moment in history and the defining protests that marked it, please check out “The Stand: How One Gesture Shook the World.” 

Title: “The Stand: How One Gesture Shook the World”

Starring: Ralph Bolston, John Carlos, Harry Edwards

Director: Tom Ratcliffe