Brent Musburger closed his long sportscasting career Tuesday night with a college basketball game on ESPN, but there’s one thing the 77-year-old needs to do before starting his new job with a Las Vegas gambling information company.
Apologize to Tommie Smith and John Carlos for a very disturbing column.
A little perspective: The late 60s were a troubling time, perhaps more troubling than the times we’re in now (but we’ll let history judge that).
In April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assasinated in Memphis, Tenn., while showing support for black sanitary workers.
Two months later, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, who also promoted the causes of the poor and minority groups, was assinated in Los Angeles after giving a victory speech upon winning the California primary.
This year also saw George Wallace running for president on a pro-segregation platform with the American Independent Party.
It was also during these times Muhammad Ali was fighting in court after his heavyweight boxing title was stripped due to his refusal to be inducted in the military.
In October 1967, sociologist Harry Edwards launched the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which called for a boycott of the 1968 Olympics by black athetes.
While the boycott did not come about, it did produce one of the keystone moments in the struggle for human rights, Smith and Carlos’ raised-fist salute in after going 1-3 in the 200 meters at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, setting the stage for social involvement by athletes.
As one might expect, given the times and an era in which the sports media less critical of sports institutions and the dumb jock cliché was in full force in the media and elsewhere, response was swift, and negative.
After threatening to ban the American team from the rest of the Games, International Olympic Committe President Avery Brundage then ordered Smith and Carlos out of the Olympic Village.
Musburger, a sports writer for the Chicago American newspaper, labeled Smith and Carlos “black-skinned stormtroopers.” The text of the column can be found here : https://www.thenation.com/article/after-forty-four-years-its-time-brent-musburger-apologized-john-carlos-and-tommie-smith/
Both were villified when they returned to the States as well, but as time went on and as the cause of civil rights moved forward, the tide turned in their favor.
In 2005, a statue depicting their protest was unveiled at their alma mater, San Jose State, with the spot occupied by silver medalist Peter Norman left empty, at the Australian’s request, so vistors could stand in his spot.
In 2008, the duo received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs.
Both were on hand when SJSU announced the revival of its legendary track and field program last summer, and Smith was on hand last month when the university announced the establishment of the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change, in the company of Edwards, James Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbarr, among others.
But where’s Brent? Have his views on Smith and Carlos changed since 1968?
We don’t know. He hasn’t said anything since then, although he’s had plenty to say about the beauty of Katherine Webb, girlfriend of one-time Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, and Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, who was briefly suspended from the team after pleading guilty in the assault of a female student.
So why can’t he say anything about his words on Smith and Carlos? And where is the outrage beyond this corner of cyberspace and a few other publications?
With his play-by-play duties complete, perhaps Musburger will have time to search his soul and atone for his words. Perhaps even learn the way to San Jose, which would be an appropriate venue for his mea culpa. On in 2018, which marks not only the 50th anniversary of the Smith-Carlos protest, but the return of SJSU’s track program.
Otherwise, it remains an ugly blot on a storied career.