America's summer of racial tension surfaces on road to Rio

Mon Aug 1, 2016 3:28pm EDT
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By Mary Milliken and Steve Keating

LOS ANGELES/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - America's hot summer of racial tension, violence and politics has spilled on to the basketball court, the track and the Twitter feeds of some of the country's top sports stars.

Now, as athletes head to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro from Aug. 5-21, will they take the debate over America's racial divide onto the world's biggest global sports stage with them?

What comes to mind is another summer in which sports and race collided spectacularly: in 1968 at the Olympics in Mexico City.

There, two American 200 meters track medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their black-gloved fists and bowed their heads on the podium in support of Black Power, a protest for which Carlos says he has paid dearly.

"As soon as we raised our hands, it's like somebody hit a switch. The mood in the stadium went straight to venom," Carlos wrote in an op-ed on Vox in July.

"Within days, Tommie and I were suspended from the US Olympic team and had to leave Mexico City early."

The violence on America's streets has made many think back to the 1960s, the decade defined by the fight for civil rights.

In July alone, two black men were killed by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, and there were two ambushes on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana that left eight officers dead.   Continued...

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James wears an " I Can't Breathe" t-shirt during warm ups prior to the game against the Brooklyn Nets in Brooklyn, New York, December 8, 2014.  Most Americans want Olympic athletes to keep their political views to themselves at the Rio Games, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.     Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo - RTSKH3K