Peter Norman was the unknown and unremembered white man on the podium for the 200-meter sprint at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He stood beside the two African-American medalists, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, who famously stood in bare feet, and raised their arms in the Black Power salute to show their support for the Olympic Project for Human Rights.
In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus preaches division, not for division’s sake, but to challenge his listeners, to help them understand that following him was a conscious decision, a decision with consequences, even death.
In choosing to stand with Smith and Carlos, Norman understood the consequences and did not falter. He would have worn a black glove and saluted like Smith and Carlos, had there been a third one. So instead, he wore the same badge that they wore, declaring his support for the cause.
After the Olympics, he returned to a racially divided and deeply segregated Australia. There he was ostracized from sports and life (he struggled just to find employment because of his stance) and marginalized for the rest of his life. He was asked to condemn the other medalists in exchange for a pardon, but he refused.
In the long-run, Smith and Carlos were acknowledged for being on the right side of the civil rights issue. The government’s pardon came too late for Peter when he died in 2006.
“Peter was a lone soldier. He consciously chose to be a sacrificial lamb in the name of human rights. There’s no one more than him that Australia should honor, recognize and appreciate,” John Carlos said.
“He paid the price with his choice,” explained Tommie Smith. “It wasn’t just a simple gesture to help us, it was HIS fight. He was a white man, a white Australian man among two men of color, standing up in the moment of victory, all in the name of the same thing.”
What is the cost of discipleship for you?