The League

Roman Oben
Retired Football Player

Roman Oben

Played 12 years as a tackle in the NFL

History Lesson


At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and John Carlos held their fists high as they stood on the platform after accepting their respective gold and bronze medals for the 200-meter race. Smith later explained he had raised his black-gloved right fist to represent black power in America, while Carlos's black-gloved left fist represented unity in black America.

Standing there together, Smith and Carlos formed an arch of unity and power. The black scarf around Smith's neck further represented black pride, while the fact they were both shoeless and wearing black socks stood for black poverty in racist America.

The contrast couldn't be more stark between these two proud, brave black Olympians who took a stand to protest the slow progress of civil rights and Martellus and Michael Bennett's recent "Black Olympics" YouTube video.

In their video, the Bennetts represent neither unity nor power. As for pride, the only hint of it in their video is taking pride in being ignorant and in reinforcing ugly stereotypes in a self-loathing manner.

Despite the Bennetts' football career, they are not mindful of the stereotypes that had to be overcome by their predecessors, so in the end they stand for nothing.

Unlike comedic bits that purposefully exaggerate stereotypes to embarrass us or make us otherwise acknowledge our complicity in the existence of these stereotypes, there is absolutely no comedic spin that can be put on the Bennett brothers' fried chicken, Kool-Aid and watermelon eating "Olympics" race.

After watching it, I was angry and embarrassed at the manner in which these two young men acted in the video, clearly failing to consider the struggles of what many black athletes had to endure during their playing days: humiliation, death threats and deliberate prejudice and racist acts against them.

As a black athlete born in Cameroon and raised in America when I was too young to have truly witnessed the civil rights movement, my knowledge of the plight of the African American athlete in the United States during that era was limited to books, films and documentaries. Yet I've always known that any successful black person in this country (sports, business, education, government, etc.) is standing on the shoulders of the many who came before them and who fought the good fight for black people's basic human rights: freedom, equality, respect and dignity.

I've always known that whether I like it or not, to be a black athlete is to stand for something other than myself. To be an athlete of color in this country is to have to maintain and uphold what was hard-won by my predecessors.

Arthur Ashe, Larry Doby, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith and John Carlos -- to name just a few -- all had to surmount tremendous obstacles of racism and stereotype-driven hatred to accomplish what they did. In the end they did not just achieve and win for themselves but for the very principles of equality, dignity, pride and unity. The young black athlete of today cannot and should not squander the sacrifices of those who came before him.

Martellus and Michael Bennett obviously had the time and resources to make that stupid video and the power to get it seen (it has been viewed 72,315 times on YouTube as of this writing). Perhaps it is time for them, and other young black athletes, to remember they stand for something other than themselves and finally take a stand in the name of dignity, unity and pride.

But maybe that is asking too much.

Kara LeGeros contributed to this article.


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By Roman Oben  |  July 17, 2009; 11:16 AM ET  | Category:  Race Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I think its excellent that you've done your homework and outlined the dramatic historical statement that was made by Carlos and Smith in the 68 Olympics. So many young black athletes do not recognize the tremendous sacrifices that were made by their predecessors, and many of them don't even know the history of this powerful moment. This statement is equally true for many entertainers, etc. I appreciate this history lesson, and although it's a little tough on these two clowns, who I'm sure never expected this type of a response to such a foolish act. It's great to see that someone is keeping our 'American' history and Black sports history alive!

Posted by: articulate1 | July 17, 2009 8:56 PM

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