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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

His raised fist

Lee Evans belonged to the era when sportspersons believed that silence wasn’t always golden.

By: Editorial |
Updated: May 26, 2021 7:47:41 am
It’s only after his death last week, when the obit writers realised that they had once again been too late in acknowledging a trailblazing sporting hero.

Lee Evans had raised his fist from the Olympic podium at the Mexico Games but his protest didn’t get talked about as much as the iconic black power salute by his US track and field team mates Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Evans had won the 400m gold by breaking the 44-second barrier but he didn’t enjoy the kind of fame the British legend Roger Bannister, aka Mr Sub-4 Minute Mile, did. It’s only after his death last week — at 74 he couldn’t recover from the stroke he suffered while on a coaching assignment in Nigeria — when the obit writers stitched together the eventful journey of the brilliant activist athlete, they realised that they had once again been too late in acknowledging a trailblazing sporting hero.

Surprisingly, the story of the best middle-distance runner of his time who grew up picking cotton under the unflinching sun hasn’t inspired a best-seller book or blockbuster movie. Evans had mixed feelings about the greatest day of his sporting career. After running the race of his life, he turned up at the medal ceremony wearing a Black Panther beret. But unlike Smith and Carlos, when the American national anthem played out, he exited the protest mode. It did save him sanctions but saw him lose millions in endorsements. More hurtful was the criticism hurled at him even by those who he stood up for. He said, “Blacks thought that I didn’t do enough and the whites were just mad. I got it from both sides… it was a time I wouldn’t like to repeat.’’

Evans belonged to the era when sportspersons believed that silence wasn’t always golden. Today, once in a while, comes a Colin Kaepernick — the US football star who took a knee to show his support to the BLM movement — proving that Evans’s pushback wasn’t a waste. But the spirit is fading. The times are such that, closer home, taking a stand means trolling Rihanna.

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