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Olympic icon John Carlos: NBA players’ boycott made them heroes

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John Carlos — who authored the most famous protest in sports history — became a hero for human rights. Now, almost 52 years after his transformative moment, Carlos has new heroes of his own: NBA players boycotting playoff games over racial injustice.

“I commend what they did. They moved up in my mind to hero status,” Carlos told The Post. “I mean all the [athletes] that have stepped backwards from their games to set a precedent and make statement, to let ownership know there’s been plenty of time relevant to black lives being taken by the hands of law enforcement, and the fact is the ownerships have never shown respect or concern for those black lives.

“These women as well as men became my heroes. I wanted to knock all the stuff I had off my mantelpiece and put each and every one of them on my mantelpiece as someone I should commemorate, someone I should cherish, someone I should respect and honor. They’re my heroes.”

History has shown Carlos, who was born and raised in Harlem, to be a hero. It just took a while for society to catch up.

John Carlos
John CarlosReuters

In the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, Carlos and Tommie Smith helped organize the Olympic Project for Human Rights. And that Oct. 16, upon winning bronze and gold respectively in the 200 meters, the two men raised black-gloved fists on the podium at the Games in Mexico City. That gesture hurled them out of the Games and into the pantheon of civil rights icons.

So when Carlos praises the NBA players’ boycotts over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., it carries weight. And he contends the players’ stance can send a message to the billionaire team owners who have the clout, connections and contacts to enact real change.

“These young individuals realized if you have no concern for those lives being black, you have no concern for my life as a black person,” Carlos, 75, told The Post. “They took the initiative to send a signal to the owners, it’s time for you to step up and be real in life, and have concern for not just Black lives but all lives, and realize there’s a double standard.

“If I’m representing you, you need to wake up and start representing me. By them making a statement by stepping back, the ball’s in ownership’s court. It’s in the courts of the commissioners of various leagues, the presidents of the various leagues to realize these young athletes do a service for you every week. You’re the cow that gives the milk and they appreciate and respect that, but it appears that me being the grass you have no respect for me. With no grass, there’s no cow.”

After Blake was shot seven times in the back and left paralyzed, the Bucks declined to play Game 5 of their playoff series versus the Magic. Other teams followed suit, prompting the NBA to postpone its postseason until Saturday. The WNBA and MLS joined in, with even some MLB teams following suit. Tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from a Thursday semifinal and her tournament was paused.

“I thought this was the snowball on top of the hill getting ready to roll down, and I think all professional sports is going to take part of it, and I believe that’s what’s happening,” Carlos told The Post. “We’d hope ownership would come together and realize this is a very serious problem. This is not about politics as they’ve been [saying]. This is about humanity.

“It’s one thing if you’re in love with your girlfriend. It’s another thing for your girlfriend not to show love back to you … And that’s what it is with professional athletes versus pro ownership. It’s no coherent relationship if I’m giving up the love and I don’t see love coming back. Speak out. Show me the spirit of love and honesty. Take the politics and bury it. We’re just talking about life, we’re talking about humanity.”

Carlos has said before that if you’re black and famous, you have to be an activist. He has expressed aggravation with athletes who aren’t. Now he’s expressing admiration for those that are.

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