John Carlos poses next to the blue Wisconsin fist logo popularized during the Capitol protests, and recalling the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics.
Forty-three years ago, American Olympic athlete John Carlos and teammate Tommie Smith stood atop a podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City and defiantly raised their black-gloved fists into the air to show solidarity with the African-American civil rights struggle back home.
Thursday evening in Madison, Carlos, in town to promote his new book at the Wisconsin Book Festival, again directed attention to a group of people protesting in the streets. "I'm here with you because I am you," Carlos told participants at the Occupy Madison encampment at the top of State Street.
Mixing politics with sports has always been controversial. Carlos, the bronze medal winner in the 200 meters at the 1968 games, and Smith, who won the gold, were immediately suspended by the American Olympic team.
Carlos says it is not realistic to expect athletes to keep quiet on important issues.
"If I see atrocities going on in the world and they send me to that world as an Olympian, am I supposed to shut my eyes? Am I supposed to shut my eyes to [human rights abuses in] China when they hosted the [2008 Summer] Olympics?"
David Soumis, who listed to Carlos' speech on State Street, said that athletes, like celebrities, should use their high profile to bring attention and legitimacy to political issues.
"You have people in a position where other people pay attention to them, right?" Soumis said. "So if you have an opportunity and a belief I think it's a good time to express it and you get a lot of people listening to you."
He added that Carlos' speech might help engage people who have not yet committed fully to the fight, but have been watching events on television.
After Carlos finished speaking to the group huddled together by the Occupy Madison camp in Veterans Park, listeners purchased the new book he co-wrote with sportswriter Dave Zirin, titled The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World.
John Pope waited in a short line for Carlos to autograph his copy. "[Carlos] was at the top of his athletic prowess and instead of coming home as a hero, he came home as someone who was despised by a lot of people because he took a real serious stand against a lot of issues," he said.
Showing solidarity for his fellow African-Americans was instinctive, Carlos noted, adding that he now sees similarities between what he was hoping to achieve for the African-American community and what Occupy movements across the globe are fighting for as well.
People are suffering because they have no means to support themselves and there are no jobs, Carlos said. But creating a strong, collective voice could start to change that, he added.
"Maybe one day we'll sit down at the table and have some sort of dialogue and get an understanding as to what's happening in this society relative to the fat-cat versus the cat that has nothing," Carlos said.