Today is June 17 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “what are you doing to ingrain your legacy onto humanity?" Afghan-born British feminist writer Mohadesa Najumi wrote: “Each day is a miracle, a blessing unexplored and the more you immerse yourself in light, the less you will feel the darkness. There is more to life than nothingness. And cynicism. And nihilism. And selfishness. And glorious isolation. Be selfish with yourself, but live your life through your immortal acts, acts that engrain your legacy onto humanity. Transcend your fears and follow yourself into the void instead of letting yourself get eaten up by entropy and decay. Freedom is being yourself without permission. Be soft and leave a lasting impression on everybody you meet.” Peter Norman left an impression on everyone he met.
In the 1968 Olympics Men’s 200M final Tommie “The Jet” Smith (U.S.) 19.83 finish first, Peter Norman, (Australia) 20:06 second, and John Carlos (U.S.) 20:10 ended up third. The medal ceremony following the race is perhaps one of the most memorable events in Olympics history as Smith and Carlos, walked barefoot to the podium, bowed their heads during the playing of the national anthem, and then raised their black-gloved fists in the air.. It was a strong symbolic gesture – taking a stand for African American civil rights in a year of tragedies that included the death of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. When you look at the picture, however, you see the silver medalist Norman wearing the same button as Smith and Carlos.
As writer Riccardo Gazzaniga noted “Norman was a white man from Australia, a country that had strict apartheid laws, almost as strict as South Africa. There was tension and protests in the streets of Australia following heavy restrictions on non-white immigration and discriminatory laws against aboriginal people, some of which consisted of forced adoptions of native children to white families.” Smith and Carlos had asked Norman if he believed in human rights. Norman said he did. They asked him if he believed in God, and he, who had been in the Salvation Army, said he believed strongly in God. “We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat, and he said, “I’ll stand with you” – remembers John Carlos – “I expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes, but instead we saw love.”
Since Smith and Carlos only had a pair of gloves between the two of them, Norman suggested they each wear one glove. As a result, Smith raised his right hand and Carlos his left. But then Norman did something else and said to the Americans “I believe in what you believe. Do you have another one of those?” he asked pointing to the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge. “That way I can show my support in your cause.” Smith admitted to being astonished, ruminating: “Who is this white Australian guy? He won his silver medal; can’t he just take it and that be enough!”
Fortunately for Norman, there happened to be a white American rower with Smith and Carlos named Paul Hoffman, an activist with the Olympic Project for Human Rights. After hearing everything Hoffman thought “if a white Australian is going to ask me for an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, then by God he would have one!” Hoffman did not hesitate: “I gave him the only one I had: mine.” "Peter didn't have to take that button [badge], Peter wasn't from the United States, Peter was not a black man, Peter didn't have to feel what I felt, but he was a man," says Carlos. "He was that committed, and I didn't know that" adds Smith.
Even though it would take many years Smith and Carlos would ultimately be recognized for their actions and support of human rights on the medal stand. Norman, however, was vilified in his home country for the rest of his life. Despite having run qualifying times, he was banned from the 1972 Summer Olympics and left competitive athletics. Australia treated like him like an outsider, his family outcasted, and work impossible to find. As John Carlos said, “If we were getting beat up, Peter was facing an entire country and suffering alone.”
Australia gave Norman one chance to save himself and he was invited to condemn Carlos and Smith’s gesture in exchange for a pardon from the system that ostracized him. A pardon that would have allowed him to find a stable job through the Australian Olympic Committee. Norman never gave in and never condemned the choice of the two Americans. Later in life an injury caused Norman to contract gangrene which led to issues with depression and alcoholism. Norman died of a heart attack on 3 October 2006 in Melbourne at the age of 64.
Thirty-eight years after the three made history, both Smith and Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers at Norman's funeral. In his eulogy John Carlos said “Peter was a lone soldier. He consciously chose to be a sacrificial lamb in the name of human rights. There’s no one more than him that Australia should honor, recognize, and appreciate.” “He paid the price with his choice,” explained Tommie Smith, “It wasn’t just a simple gesture to help us, it was HIS fight. He was a white man, a white Australian man among two men of color, standing up in the moment of victory, all in the name of the same thing.”
When San Jose State University decided to build a statue of the three medal winners Norman, in perhaps one of the greatest examples of ingraining a legacy onto humanity, said to leave the silver plinth empty. Doing so would allow anyone who supports human rights, as he did back on October 16, 1968, to join Smith and Carlos on the podium.
How often are you ingraining your legacy onto humanity?
How often do you stand up for what is right despite the person or professional repercussions you may have to face?
How often do you recognize the issues others are facing and place those in front of your own concerns?