After 44 Years, It's Time Brent Musburger Apologized to John Carlos and Tommie Smith

When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, they were scorched with scorn across the sports media landscape. One would have searched in vain for sympathy, understanding, or even an unbiased recording of their grievances.

No one asked why two young, world-class athletes would risk their livelihoods, their reputations, even the safety of themselves and their families in the name of protest. Few were interested in examining why anyone would feel compelled to challenge an International Olympic Committee that coddled apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, didn’t hire black officials, or would be led by an avowed white supremacist and anti-Semite, Avery Brundage. It was easier to dismiss Carlos and Smith and misguided souls and be done with them.

In 2012, that frozen, dramatic moment of 1968 resistance is far more likely to be celebrated than criticized. Smith and Carlos are now routinely lauded for their bravery and daring. As ESPN proclaimed bluntly upon giving Smith and Carlos their Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2008, “They were right.”

No one was saying that in 1968. Amidst the angry denunciations, there was one column published in the Chicago American newspaper, that was particularly ugly. The journalist responsible has never deigned to comment or explain, let alone apologize, for why he decided upon the words he chose.  The writer became an iconic broadcaster who now sits comfortably as the elder statesman of the sports world. He appears in family friendly movies like The Waterboyand Cars 2. His name is Brent Musburger.

In 1968 Musburger was a restless, ambitious young sports writer looking to make his name. He found his opportunity when Smith and Carlos made their stand. Musburger didn’t see a demonstration. He saw a target.

“One gets a little tired of having the United States run down by athletes who are enjoying themselves at the expense of their country,” he wrote. Musburger then infamously called Smith and Carlos “ a pair of black skinned stormtroopers.”

The above quote has been disseminated in books and articles for years but his full column is a difficult find. With an assist from Professor Jules Boykoff and an old-school tool called microfilm,  I found it and if anything it’s even uglier than the above quotes suggest.  The Headline is "Bizarre Protest By Smith, Carlos Tarnishes Medals." Despite seeing what they did as "bizarre," Musburger doesn't once address why Smith and Carlos did what they did or quote them directly. He does however find time to mock them repeatedly. He describes Smith and Carlos as "juvenile", "ignoble," and – this actually is bizarre -"unimaginative". Musburger calls Tommie Smith "the militant black." In describing a scene of Carlos trying to defend their actions, Musberger writes, "Perhaps it's time 20 year old athletes quit passing themselves off as social philosophers."

And then there are those words that still singe the eyes: "black skinned stormtroopers." You almost don't believe it until you read it. 

As for the actual stormtrooper-sympathizer, Musburger refers to Brundage as a kindly old grandfather and with great affection and addresses him as “Avery”. No mention of course that many of the athletes called him "Slavery Avery." To this day, mention Musburger’s name to John Carlos and he grits his teeth. This is particularly illustrative because Carlos is fond of saying that he has no hate in his heart toward anyone even after all the isolation and criticism he endured.  As he is fond of saying, “Bitterness leads to cancer which leads to death and I have too much work to do to have time for any of that.” Name a nemesis of his from 1968, like Jesse Owens or another member of the media and he responds with a smile and recounts how in private, they buried the hatchet. But not Musburger.

“We are talking about someone who compared us to Nazis. Think about that. Here we are standing up to apartheid and to a man in Avery Brundage who delivered the Olympics to Hitler’s Germany. And here’s Musburger calling us Nazis. That got around. It followed us. It hurt us. It hurt my wife, my kids. I’ve never been able to confront him about why he did this. Every time I’ve been at a function or an event with Brent Musburger and I walk towards him, and he heads the other way.”

It’s been 44 years. It’s time Brent Musberger apologized for slandering these two young men as “black-skinned stormtroopers.” It's time he apologized for his absence of journalistic ethics in ignoring their message and instead obsessing on the color of their skin. It's time he apologized for making the lives of John Carlos and Tommie Smith that much harder. Nearing the end of a distinguished career, he should address this scar on his legacy. Brent Musburger: the ball is in your court.

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I understand but...

It is interesting to recount the historical moment and cultural circumstances in which Carlos and Smith made there statement against racism and social injustice, but to put so much blame on a single individual seems invalid. Musberger is represenative of what was believed and written about at the time, and he was dead wrong. There is no debating that. However that is why what these young men did was so imporatant, it is why it mattered, why it is remembered. Forget musberger and his ilk and concentrate on the positive changes that are happening in social justice and collective conscience about human rights for all. Why restart an argument over four decades old. Musberger is a dinosaur and irrelevant to what people of conscience are attempting to acomplish. Let's look forward to a better world not go after the easy targets of a blatantly undefrendable past.

Musburger may have won round 1, but not posterity

There was certainly a racial angle here, but there was actually a larger issue at that time. Musburger was only about 6 years older than Carlos, but sided with the older generation on the whole matter of social protest. What you had was an older generation that didn't even try to understand the youngsters, but rather treated protests like a child's wails and temper tantrums. It is easier to dismiss an opponent as crazy and petulant than to address what they have to say.

To put it into a larger context, Musburger lived in Chicago at that time, the DNC convention, no doubt, fresh in his mind. Almost certainly that tainted his opinion of youth political activism, and as a reader who was still years from being born, I interpret
his column as an overreaction to a gesture that may have been "juvenile," but was nevertheless peaceful at a time when some protests were not. If he had some axe to grind because of such concurrent events, his emotions trumped logic, as his central objection was to "athletes who are enjoying themselves at the expense of their country." Insofar as the USOC, not the federal government, picks up that tab, Musburger was just plain wrong.

He actually did once admit that the "black skinned stormtroopers" vocabulary was harsh, but seemed to stay on the overall opinion that he expressed. If he does still believe that, then an apology would not mean anything. He is entitled to believe what he wants, even if the rest of the world thinks him a fool. He does not owe Carlos an apology, but if Carlos has attempted to speak to him in person, Musburger could answer a reasonable question. If he has actually furtively avoided him for just such a reason, that is weak character.

Still, while the column may have gotten Musburger some initial notoriety, it's debatable how much direct harm he actually caused. Even if he'd never written it, there was no shortage of similarly caustic comments from no less than Time magazine. Carlos may never get closure on this one, but maybe the last gas. If people remember John Carlos for only one thing, it will be the image of a raised fist. At this point, if people remember Musburger for one thing, it will be for an obsession with honey badgers.

Musberger & John Carlos/Tommie Smith

I wonder whether Musberger's opinion of Brundage, who prevented a Jewish athlete from competing and a woman athlete from competing because she spurned his advances, has changed.

Not to mention his sympathy for the Nazis and other lowlifes connected with the IOC over the decades.

As a preteen in 1968, I have been brought back to that year in recollections adn new learning, especially the repressive blowback that occurred all around the world in that year.

Carlos and Smith paid a heavy price.

Musberger should revisit it too.

John Carlos & Tommie Smith, American heroes for justice!

Demagogue Dave = Brent Musberger

'In 1968 Musburger was a restless, ambitious young sports writer looking to make his name. He found his opportunity when Smith and Carlos made their stand. Musburger didnít see a demonstration. He saw a target.'

I did a double take on that one. Demagogue Dave, you sold your journalism soul to race-baiting to get ahead.

Take for example your absurd column accusing Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson for expressing his opinion that Cam Newton shouldn't get tattoos.

Funny thing is, Jerry Richardson complained to Jeremy Shockey that he "could do without the tattoos" on him as well. You left that part of the interview out -- all to race-bait and defame a man for an article.

Welcome back Tornado. . .

And in reading your most recent posts, I gotta say. . .

I've seen three- and four-year-olds throw better hissy fits.

Good column Dave. Thanks for allowing comments again.

Welcome back Tornado. . .

And in reading your most recent posts, I gotta say. . .

I've seen three- and four-year-olds throw better hissy fits.

Good column Dave. Thanks for allowing comments again.


C'mon, man. All well and fine to criticize this column, but could you stick to this one instead of one that Zirin wrote last year?

It just makes for better reading for all of us if we stay on topic.

Well hell Dave went back 44 years -- LOL

Demagogue Dave should also finally apologize for his false accusations of rape against the Duke LaCrosse Team.

Dave is basically the Nancy Grace of sports writing. He takes a USA Today column, throws in some race-baiting, and calls it a week.

Tornado is right

Until Dave Zirin apologizes to the Duke lacrosse players and their families he has no right to make demands from anyone else.


How about a link to Musburger's piece? I feel like a fraud getting mad at something without seeing the full context (not that I expect it to be anything but damning).

Duke Lacrosse vs. Smith/Carlos

I have no idea what Dave Zirin wrote about the Duke Lacrosse incident. Neither did I have any idea what Brent Musburger had written about John Carlos and Tommy Smith. Of course, I can understand how and why Zirin remembers the Musburger article. But who is it that reads Dave Zirin's web site with utter contempt, looking to post attacks in the comments section? I would guess that it's the very same fascist, right-wing sock-puppets who pollute all of the Internet political message boards.

The obvious difference between the two incidents is that Tommy Smith and John Carlos did nothing wrong. In fact, they had done something very right. And very left-wing. They were hated, not by America, but by America's right-wing. They were simply attacked and demonized by America's political right-wing and the right-wing media.

On the other hand, a crime was reported against members of the Duke Lacrosse team and the prosecutor indicted those people for that crime. The prosecutor concealed evidence. Anyone who might have commented incorrectly on such an incident is clearly not engaged in the same kind of treachery as what Brent Musburger engaged in by attacking Tommy Smith and John Carlos.

Not only does Musburger owe Smith and Carlos an apology, but he owes an apology to the American people.

Link to Musburger's comments Dan

The Worthless Brent Mussberget

I watched Brent the Jerk "officiate" over an apology forced out of Isiah Thomas for the "crime" of telling the truth--for saying the only reason everyone went nuts over Larry Bird is because he is white. It was nauseating to watch this racist flim flam man be called in to broker the so called deal to save Isiah's career.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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