Fifty years ago this week, two African-American athletes, Vincent Matthews and Wayne Collett, won gold and silver respectively in the 400 meters at the Munich Olympics. In the medal ceremony they threw themselves into the jaws of history.

During the US national anthem, the athletes shared the highest level of the podium, which would normally have been reserved for Matthews alone as the winner, an act of unity that broke Olympic protocol. They turned their backs away from the American flag and chatted casually, seeming uninterested. Matthews rubbed his chin thoughtfully before folding his arms. Collett was barefoot, his jacket open, his hands on his hips. As they parted, Matthews twirled her medal on his finger, while Collett raised a clenched fist in the air.

The response from the International Olympic Committee dripped with poison. In a letter to the United States Olympic Committee...

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Author: Jim Kowal