By Dennis J. Freeman
LOS ANGELES — When it comes to the “woke” athlete, John Carlos might be at the top of the list. Muhammad Ali would be close to him.
That’s the whole point of the Athletes for Impact Awards, celebrating and honoring the conscious athlete, those who dare to defy boundaries for the cause of social change.
The NFL’s national anthem protests and high-profile shooting of unarmed black men have sparked the outcry of social activism among many professional and collegiate athletes, most notably former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
On July 16, at the home of the LA84 Foundation, a handful of noted Olympians and professional athletes came together to pay tribute to those who have raised their voices for change in their own way.
Carlos, the 200-meter silver medalist at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico, is known around the world for the unforgettable Black Power salute that he and San Jose State teammate Tommie Smith executed on the medal stand. Ali, of course, made his case to not fight in the Vietnam War a public affair that saw the three-time heavyweight champion stripped of his title and becoming one of the headliners in the fight for civil rights.
It is because of the actions of Carlos and Ali that helped prompted the Athletes for Impact Awards. Ali’s daughter, Laila Ali, attended the afternoon event in.
“I’m happy to be part of this event because I’m always wondering what more can I do,” Ali said. “When you come together with other people and other people who care, that’s when you can come up with solutions. To me, it’s starts in the household and then no matter what platform you have, whether it’s in the community or the neighborhood kids or on a bigger level, like athletes and entertainers, we all need to be doing our part.
“We can’t ever expect people to be a Muhammad Ali. Not everyone has that in them to do that.”
Carlos was the main attraction as he handed an award named for him to Wyomia Tyus, the decorated Tennessee State University sprinter.
Tyus is not exactly a household name. She was the first person — man or woman — to win the 100 meters in back-to-back Olympics. Tyus achieved that feat at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics. Yet, she has lived in the shadow of the great Wilma Rudolph, who came before her.
Besides her remarkable feat, Tyus and the rest of the United States women 4×100 relay at the 1968 Olympics, dedicated their gold medal to Carlos and Smith.
“It’s good to be honored,” Tyus said. “All of us, every single human being, should feel they can make changes, otherwise the world stays the same and we definitely don’t want that. Athletes have a bigger platform and they can make a bigger statement, those that want to.”
Tyus, who has a book coming out in the fall called “Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story,” said she is paying it forward by acknowledging of those who paved the way for her.
“It is about a group of black women at Tennessee State that made me who I am today,” Tyus said. “They gave me the encouragement and the wisdom and the knowledge and everything to go out and not only be a runner, but to get a college education and speak up for what you want,” Tyus said.