U.S. Olympic fencer and activist Race Imboden has called out the “irony” in the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s decision to enter track-and-field icons Tommie Smith and John Carlos to its Hall of Fame this year.
The USOPC will induct Olympian medalists Carlos and Smith as legends, among 13 total honorees, at an awards dinner on Nov. 1, an announcement last month read.
Smith and Carlos famously bowed their heads and raised their fists to protest racism and poverty during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
The committee’s announcement recognized Smith’s and Carlos’ Olympic achievements, including Smith winning the gold medal and setting a world record in the 200-meter sprint in 1968.
But the USOPC also recognized the Olympians for “simultaneously” standing up for “racial equality during the civil rights movement.”
“I do have to say there is some irony in the fact that this year Tommie Smith and John Carlos enter into the US Olympic Hall Of Fame,” Imboden tweeted on Thursday. “We celebrate two individuals at the same time you warn two other athletes to not do the same. How are we as athletes meant to see this?”
In August, the USOPC issued Imboden a 12-month probation for protesting various forms of injustice by kneeling on the medal stand as the U.S. national anthem played at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru earlier that month.
U.S. Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who, at this year’s Pan Am Games, raised her fist on the medal stand in a peaceful protest reminiscent of Smith’s and Carlos’ five decades ago, also was put on 12 months’ probation from the USOPC.
Both athletes were warned in formal letters of reprimand in August that they could “face more serious sanctions for any additional breach” of its code of conduct, which prohibits political protests.
The USOPC did not immediately return a request for comment.
USOPC spokesman Mark Jones told Northern California’s KQED that Smith and Carlos are “Olympic legends.”
“While the Olympic Charter clearly prohibits political protest, and we abide by that prohibition, then and now, we can and should celebrate Tommie and John’s accomplishments on the field of play and their contributions to an important moment in our nation’s history,” he added.
Imboden has publicly expressed his admiration for Carlos and Smith, who, after the 1968 Games, were vilified for their protests back at home, where they received hate mail and death threats.
The USOPC, known as the U.S. Olympic Committee before changing its name in June, suspended the men and sent them home, reportedly after receiving pressure from the International Olympic Committee, The Washington Post reported.
Imboden, who said he kneeled in August to bring attention to racism, gun control and the Trump administration’s immigration policies, told CNN’s Don Lemon that month that he was inspired by athletes like Carlos, Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Muhammad Ali.