The New York Times published a story this weekend about the sale of the gold medal won in the 1968 Olympics by Tommie Smith one of the two athletes whose silent raised-fist protest defined the moment in history.
The news was jarring and slightly unbelievable. Tommie Smith, the former Olympic champion, was auctioning his gold medal.
Of all people, Smith — a proud, disciplined, principled man.
But there it was plain as day, on the Web site for the auctioneer, Moments in Time Memorabilia, the iconic photo of Smith, Peter Norman and John Carlos, the gold, silver and bronze medal winners of the 200-meter race at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
Carlos and Smith stood, heads bowed, black gloves thrust skyward as the United States flag was raised with the playing of the national anthem.
This remains one of the most recognized demonstrations of protest and resistance in the history of United States athletics, and it was the perfect symbol of a generation. Why would Smith, 66, want to sell anything associated with this historic moment? Especially his gold medal?
For many of us, the gesture became an inspirational symbol of defiance. For Smith and Carlos, who suffered tremendously — they couldn’t find employment and received constant threats and hate mail — the medal became the symbol of a nightmare.
Perhaps by selling it, Smith will find closure, though the reality is he and Carlos will forever be defined by that moment.
What is the value of Smith’s medal? Some sports auction houses like Gold Medal Collectables in Ontario, Canada, estimate that it might sell for $8,000 to $10,000.
Zimet said the bidding would start at $250,000.
Dr. Walter Evans, a prominent art collector with one of the world’s largest collections of African American artifacts, said that for those who collect in this genre, Smith’s medal has high value.
“I don’t collect sport memorabilia, but if I were interested in that type of artifact I would pay a quarter of a million for it,” he said by telephone Thursday. “He’s a historical figure. It’s not Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, but all of those things combined helped to change the course of our history.”
Smith would not comment on the proposed sale, but his wife, Delois, said by telephone Thursday, “If it doesn’t bring the amount that Tommie has in mind, believe me, it will not be sold.”
Smith should be wise about selling his gold medal and shoes. Yes, the medal is his, but it has been cherished for generations by many who remember the moment and many more who have seen the footage.
The gesture was among the three most defining events in the social and political history of sports in the United States — along with Jackie Robinson’s stepping forward to desegregate Major League Baseball and Muhammad Ali’s refusing to step forward to serve in the army.
Smith and Carlos raised clenched fists in a silent yet powerful gesture.
Now Smith wants to cash in.
In an ideal world, someone, perhaps a contemporary athlete who is a collector, would buy Smith’s gold medal and his shoes and give them back — as a gift.
Integrity should not — must not — be for sale.
Smith should know.
Wasn’t that the point?
To read the complete article, see:
For Sale: A Medal Worth More Than Gold
To view the auction lot description, see:
TOMMIE SMITH'S 1968 OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL AND 200M WORN PUMAS
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