Beyond the Podium Protest: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Pleasure at the 1968 Olympics

Boyd, Cleo, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hale, Grace, History, University of Virginia

The image of Black American track athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, on the Olympic podium, black-gloved fists raised in the air, dominates historical memory of the 1968 Olympics and continues to serve as a frame through which subsequent iterations of athlete-activism are understood and judged. This thesis, however, looks beyond the iconic Smith-Carlos podium protest in order to explore other ways in which sport was engaged as a terrain of struggle in 1968. By centering the experiences of Black American women who competed at the 1968 Games, it disrupts the celebratory narratives that have functioned to iconize the 1968 podium protest and looks instead at the ways in which the project of Black male athlete-activists in this period was limited both by masculinist politics and, relatedly, by a failure to take the pleasures of sport as seriously as its problems. Through the memories of Black women athletes, the broader political significance of sport, beyond its potential to be used as a “platform,” is considered. Ultimately, this thesis argues that because Black women practiced sport outside of the exploitative college and professional contexts that Black male athletes experienced, they were better able to understand the potential for sport to serve as a site of liberatory praxis. Thus, rather than use sport solely as a platform on which to speak out, these women engaged the realm of physical culture as a space in which to imagine, perform, and realize alternative ways of being in the world.

MA (Master of Arts)
race, gender , protest , pleasure , women's sport , 1968 Olympics , TSU Tigerbelles
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