Dr. John Carlos is best known as the man who, along with Tommie Smith, raised his fist from the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics. The bronze medalist is also someone who had a decades-long friendship with the Australian silver medalist on that 1968 platform, Peter Norman. I wanted to get his feedback on this year’s Australian athlete who has courted controversy, boxer Damien Hooper. He as always, delivered his views straight, with no chaser.
DZ: Damien Hooper, an Australian boxer of aboriginal descent, wore a flag on his shirt that celebrated his indigenous Australian heritage and was threatened with expulsion from the games. What are your thoughts about Mr. Hooper?
JC: Here’s a young man who puts a shirt on to acknowledge his ethnicity, the forgotten people of Australia, and it appears the Olympic Committee might want to continue for them to be forgotten. He chose to stand up and say, “Not only do I represent the people of Australia but I represent the aboriginal people specifically.” I feel that he feels that his people never really got the respect that they deserve, and never really been given credit as the founding fathers of their nation.
If you could say something directly to Damien Hooper what would it be?
I have the utmost respect for him. I admire him, and I think he should stand firm. I would say, “Don’t let anyone dictate as to how you should live your life.” Now, it would be great if they were paying him a handsome fee for going to the Olympic games, and when I say a handsome fee, I’m talking about coming from the International Olympic Committee. I mean, they walk away with a bundle of money. It’s almost as if these individuals are worthless other than the fact that they can win a medal and promote the rings at the Olympics. We all want to promote the Olympic games, but we have to realize that the Olympic organizers promote what they would like to promote, and they feel like you have no concern or no value as to who you are and where you came from. So, I applaud what he’s doing and I support him in any way I possibly can. He didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t disrespect his country. He didn’t disrespect his flag. He didn’t disrespect anyone other than those aristocrats who sit there and make policy.
You must’ve had a flashback when you heard about this story to the late, great Peter Norman. Tell us a little bit for those who don’t know, first of all, who was Peter Norman, and what connections do you see in terms of what Peter Norman went through and what Damien Hooper is going through?
Well, Peter Norman was in my estimation, the greatest sprinter to ever come out of Australia, and at the same time, Peter Norman was a white Australian. He was not an aboriginal Australian, but Peter Norman was a humanitarian. He has a great concern for the indigenous people of that nation and he stood for humanity. I think that’s the same thing Mr. Hooper stood for as well, humanity, to say, “I don’t want to forget where I came from. I don’t want to forget my roots.”
What does it also say about Australia? They like to talk about how far they’ve come since those days in 1968 and yet if you look at things like the prison population, the oppression of the aboriginal people in Australia, that’s actually worse now than it was fifty years ago. What does it say about Australia that their own Olympic committee would come down so hard on Damien Hooper who is wearing what is actually an accepted flag in his country?
Well, it’s not about the local chapter of the Olympic Committee. It all extends from the International Olympic Committee. The chapters are going to follow whatever direction the International Olympic Committee says just like in 1968. It wasn’t the United States Olympic Committee that chose to ban Tommie Smith and John Carlos. It was the International Olympic Committee that gave the directive. The same thing is taking place now. I think its time that people start to realize that they have a voice, and they should be able to raise their voice on issues they feel are wrong.
What does it say that if Damien Hooper had chosen to wear a shirt that said McDonald’s on it, he would not have gotten in trouble because that’s an official Olympic sponsor, or a shirt that said British Petroleum or Dow Chemical, yet wearing an aboriginal flag is somehow this horrible scandal? What does that tell us about the International Olympic Committee?
They have a double standard. It’s fine for me as long as I want to promote whatever I want to promote, but its not fine for you because you’re not allowed to promote who you want to promote. This has been going on since 1984 when we brought the corporate world into the Olympics. So when you sit back and think about it and all the dust settles, the corporate entities are the ones that shoot for the gold, bronze, and silver in reality.
Isn’t that what you say? ‘The Olympics are every four years because it takes them four years to count the money?
To count the cash. That’s absolutely right. One day I believe we’ll see a day when individuals will have McDonald’s or British Petroleum on their chests as opposed to having their country’s flags on their chests.