Olympic gold medalist took a stand for civil rights in 1968, now for the youth of SWFL

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Tommie Smith at the podium. (Credit: Delois Smith)
Tommie Smith at the podium. (Credit: Delois Smith)

A living legend gave his words of wisdom to students in Southwest Florida.

During the 1968 Summer Olympics, the world watched as Tommie Smith broke the 200-meter race record.

What Smith did after earning the gold medal earned him even more attention.

“A lot of people saw Mexico City as a Black Panther move,” Smith said. “It was not a Black Panther move. It was a Tommie Smith move to service.”

As he took the victory stand, Smith took a position for civil rights. He raised one clenched fist into the air.

“People viewed it as very radical, but there was more love in that stance than people realized because it was so far advanced,” Smith said.

Maria Angelino, a senior at Fort Myers High School and other Southwest Florida student-athletes share how Smith continues to make an impact half a century later.

“For him to be that courageous,” Angelino said, “being a person to make that controversial step towards equality, is something that means the world to me.”

“I’m gonna take everything he says and try to treat it like gold, because he’s made it to the Olympics,” said Milan Tucker, a Fort Myers High School senior.

After a successful athletic career that included tying or breaking 13 world records in track, Smith said motivating the future is the greatest award. He said he is happy about the kids, and the opportunity to inspire people at that age to go the distance for something they believe in.

His biggest message is for the kids to be as strong athletically as they are educationally.

“You put the two together,” Smith said, “you’re unstoppable.”

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