Tommie Smith speaks on ‘With Drawn Arms’ documentary, today’s generation of activist athletes

'[They] know that Tommie Smith was on the victory stand, but very few know what [I] thought on the victory stand and that's what With Drawn Arms is about,' Smith says

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The 1968 Summer Olympics is one of the moments in history that truly prevails beyond sports. Most have seen the pose of the two Black Olympic athletes on the victory stand, quietly protesting with their Black power fist in the air. That courageous moment is an image that lives on throughout the continued fight against racial injustices in the world. 

theGrio sat down with one of the brave athletes that took this stance in 1968, Olympic Gold Medalist Tommie Smith, to discuss his documentary, With Drawn Arms, that follows that moment and what happened after he walked off the victory stand. 

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Everyone knows who saw that, who was around at that time, knows the outside in. [They] know that Tommie Smith was on the victory stand, but very few know what Tommie Smith thought on the victory stand and that’s what With Drawn Arms is about,” Smith shares about the reasoning behind why the documentary and the special viewpoint it brings for viewers both young and old.  “So it is a documentary, but it’s a documentary of sociology, of how things happen at any particular time and how the movement is continuing—the changes of that continuation and so forth.”

The documentary unpacks the aftermath of Smith’s protest, including the bridges he burned and the opportunities he was not afforded because of his choice to protest. For years it was high and lows, but Smith was focused on doing what was right. 

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The documentary features interviews with prominent figures and athletes, such as the late Congressman John Lewis , who praised him for his heroic protest. Sports journalist Jemele Hill and professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe also discuss the Olympic veteran, touching on his influence on today’s athletes. 

With the fight against racial injustices still at the forefront, Smith spoke highly of the country’s current athletes, who have been using their platform to speak and fight against injustices. 

“I think that platform is very wise, to use such a platform as athletic endowments. Otherwise, how would they use them? The things that they’re saying about what happened over 50 years ago, which is longer than they have been born. They have the chapters of memory and they are doing it, and doing what those people—not just Tommie Smith in this moment—but those people sacrificed during those times.

Tommie Smith
(Credit: AP)

He shared the importance of athletes and why it is so essential for the next generation to use their voices to continue the fight. When asked about how he found the courage to fight for change, the gold medalist shared these wise words:

There was an orator, one of the greatest ever lived [Martin Luther King Jr.], that [said] ‘I have been to the mountaintop.’ Ok, meaning I have been, now it is your time because my time has ended. There’s a lot of us who realize what he was saying and he left us with the blessing. There are a lot of bridges and you will get to those bridges. You might not cross those bridges, but you leave the door open for a lot of people who didn’t have the chance to speak on the way. Now you can cross it. Your turn is on the other side. Keep the faith.” 

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Smith emphasized that there will be sacrifices, much of the sacrifices he faced are displayed in the film, but the end goal was much bigger than those bridges. 

With Drawn Arms was executive produced by John Legend and Jesse Williams and had its broadcast premiere on Bounce TV on Sunday, Dec. 13, and received high praise at the Tribeca Film Festival. 

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