Michael Johnson: “You will see athletes protesting against the centers of power” | athletics


Olympic Games | The Guardian

michael Johnson hadn’t been a year alive when Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the 1968 Olympic podium in Mexico City with their gloved fists raised in the air to greet Black Power, a pivotal moment of activism in sport and one They continued even though they knew it would cost them so much. Growing up and embarking on a track and field career that earned him four Olympic gold medals, Johnson initially had only a “vague” familiarity with his ancestors at the Games.

That changed in his late teenage years when he started studying all of the great sprinters before him in search of insights to learn to develop. Of course, his gaze fell on Smith, one of the few sprinters who was something special on both the 200m and the 400m. Studying Smith’s step pattern naturally led him to the 1968 Olympics, and what he learned about Smith and Carlos left him “awestruck” by the choices they made a year after he was born.

“It was very interesting for me to read about putting myself in their shoes: ‘Would I have had the courage to do what you did?’” He said in a Zoom interview. “And then to hear about the fact that as an athlete I know the opportunity that I’ve had; I was still a college athlete when I learned about their history. To know that it was my dream to become an Olympic champion – these were Olympic athletes who came home and were punished, couldn’t find work, were treated with contempt, hatred and death threats. “

Those days in the early 80s marked the beginning of a training course for Johnson that took him to that point as he is releasing a documentary-style podcast series called Defiance on Thursday in which he has conversations with numerous athletes and experts to do both explore the familiar and more obscure stories of those who hold their own in their sport, from Smith and Carlos to Billie Jean King, Colin Kaepernick and Muhammad Ali.

As an athlete, Johnson was not known for his activism. He says he grew up supporting political candidates and taking part in protest marches during his studies, but his days of competition fell at a time when, aside from certain issues like the boycott of apartheid in South Africa, the intersection between sport and politics is not so clear then was like now. In this era of social media and the internet, two decades after his career, Johnson understood how to use these spaces. He cites Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was killed by three white men while jogging in Georgia in February 2020, as a catalyst for getting more active on social media.

“This was the first time I decided to really use my social media platform to speak out against these kinds of issues and to support him and his family,” says Johnson. “But I think it’s a different situation now where there are so many ways to use your platform that you have. While as an athlete without social media it didn’t matter whether it was about achieving justice or just building a brand, we had to rely on traditional media, which is much more difficult. “

One of the questions Johnson has always asked himself is why athletes provoke a stronger negative reaction than other celebrities when they are open about human rights and political issues. As an example, he cites the high number of black athletes in many prominent sports: “The consensus [from his interviews] is that there are many people in society who feel that these athletes should consider themselves lucky.

Johnson celebrated over 200 meters of Olympic gold in Atlanta in a world record time in 1996.Johnson celebrated over 200 meters of Olympic gold in Atlanta in a world record time in 1996. Photo: Doug Mills / AP

“Because if you are a minority group living in America or the UK who are a professional athlete, making millions of dollars and leading a very good life traditionally reserved for whites, should you be lucky and how? do you dare to say How dare you use this platform that has been given to you. How dare you attack us and use that against us. That’s just one example of how we got to this point. “

While people used to know him as the good, tastier black guy, people now call him in his office to express their displeasure with his own opinion or to support athletes like Gwen Berry, the US hammer thrower who protested the National Anthem.

With the new podcast series, he expects more criticism from those who disagree. But he maintains a positive stance and underlines that he believes the future of athletes protest has been seen in how the WNBA pros have organized to make tangible change with initiatives ranging from preventing fines against players to the Wearing anti-violence jerseys in 2016, Atlanta Dream players wore support in the election of Raphael Warnock as governor over Republican Kelly Loeffler, her former owner.

“Ultimately, they got their league to drop their fines,” he says. “You also went a step further and participated in a political campaign and it was a success. I think there will be protests where athletes go to the centers of power, be it their own league, their own employers or directly participate in political campaigns. “

On the field of play, one of the most interesting developments in athletics is the growing importance of female sprinters. It was Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who caught the eye in Tokyo and had thousands of far less important meetings to see them duel, not their male counterparts. Johnson says the increased attention is the result of both historic accomplishments and part of a changing trend not just in athletics.

“There has been an imbalance for so long and I think some have realized that there was an imbalance,” he says. “If you tell people that men’s sports are more interesting, they will believe it. But when at some point you start to present the other side, women’s sport, more, you realize that people are interested in it because they are faced with it now. I think that’s a bit of what we see. “

Johnson names Thompson-Herah, Athing Mu and Karsten Warholm as the most impressive artists he has seen this year. At a time when the 400 meter hurdles were as adorable as any other track and field event, in which Warholm (45.94 seconds) and Sydney McLaughlin (51.46) both set world records in Tokyo, the flat 400 meters -Races were not out of place, he thinks it is possible that the event will attract attention at a time when far more prominent things are not going quite as well.

Colin Kaepernick (right) and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel during the national anthem before an NFL game.Colin Kaepernick (right) and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel during the national anthem before an NFL game. Photo: Mike McCarn / AP

“There is nothing to say that Karsten Warholm and his appearances at this event, Rai Benjamin, who is right with him, can make this one of the most outstanding events,” he says. “Of course on the men’s side, because currently the traditional festival tent events – the 100 m, 200 m and 400 m for men – are nowhere near as exciting as the 400 m hurdles for men.”

The past few years have been a time of great change for Johnson, who unexpectedly suffered a stroke in 2018. Once the fastest man in history over 200 m and 400 m, at some point he could no longer run without help. The event itself was shocking and recovery was mentally demanding, but he says he is now leading the same life as he was before the stroke. He sees this as an enormous benefit to his recovery from being an athlete. Instead of regaining his shape, he draws more fulfillment from helping others who have had strokes since then.

“It has been very rewarding to try to help others who are going through the same process but who don’t have the benefit of being an athlete and understanding those small advances of how important it is to stay motivated every day,” he says. “And then try to sensitize people so that they can hopefully prevent a stroke.”

In the 20 years since Johnson’s last Olympic gold medal at age 33, he has gracefully retired and become a popular and insightful broadcaster while finding satisfaction in a variety of ways. He says he’s still as determined as he was an athlete, but now that effort is pouring into his business as well as other exploits like Defiance.

“At this point, now that I’m in my 50s …” he says with a laugh. “Just take each day as it comes and try to balance it a little more than years ago when I was an athlete and focused on, ‘What’s next? What’s next to conquer? ‘ Now a little more balanced. “

Defiance with Michael Johnson, an Audible original podcast, is now available at www.audible.co.uk/defiance

Source Link

Leave a Reply