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The Intersection of Sports and Politics: An afternoon with Dr. John Carlos & Dave Zirin

February 4, 2012

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to spend time with 1968 Olympic Athlete Dr. John Carlos and left sports writer Dave Zirin while they were in Grand Rapids to give several talks.

After speaking with a few different smaller groups, we were able to sit down and interview both of them for about 40 minutes. The interview is posted below.

For the main presentation the audience of at least 600 was shown a portion of the documentary, Not Just a Game: Power, Politics and American Sports. The section that was shown dealt with the hyper-commercialism of sports today and the contrast of present days athletes like LeBron James to former athletes like Muhammad Ali and John Carlos.

After the 15-minute clip, Carlos and Zirin took the stage. Zirin chose to just ask question of the Olympic legend, instead of having a formal presentation. Dr. Carlos talked about that moment in 1968 in Mexico City, when he and Tommy Smith made that amazing statement on the medals stand.

The former athlete also talked about his relationship to his father, his early acts of civil disobedience and growing up in Harlem. While Dr. Carlos talked about his relationship with Malcolm x and his meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I could see on the faces of many of the students present a sense of awe. This sense of awe was reflected in the line of people who wanted to get their book signed by Dr. Carlos and how many students wanted a picture taken with the Olympic great.

Dave Zirin also told the audience about the day that he and John Carlos spoke to the Occupy Wall Street in New York City. The main point that Carlos made that day and repeated to the audience at GVSU, is that we all have to make critical decisions in life about whether or not we do things that benefit just ourselves or take action that benefits the greater good. It is in these moments, said Dr. Carlos, that we define who we are and what we stand for. “Don’t come to the end of your life with regrets about making a difference in the world. Even though it might be unpopular, take a stand for justice when the opportunities present themselves!”

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