SJSU Presents Words to Action: Landmarks and Legacy of Athlete Activism


This October is the 50th anniversary of a historic moment in athlete activism and San Jose State University history. During the 1968 Olympic Games, Tommie Smith, ’69 Social Science, ’05 Honorary Doctorate, and John Carlos, ’05 Honorary Doctorate, raised their fists on the medal stand in Mexico City to protest racial inequality, drawing international attention to athlete activism and the core goals of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR).

Join us for our town hall, Words to Action: Landmarks and Legacy of Athlete Activism, on October 17. We have an exciting lineup of panelists who will reflect on OPHR’s 50-year legacy and its connection to the current wave of athlete activism.


October 17, 2018
8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.


The Event Center at SJSU
290 S. 7th St., San Jose, CA 95112 (parking)


  • Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, former basketball player, Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and the Vancouver Grizzlies
  • Nate Boyer, former active duty Green Beret and professional football player with the Seattle Seahawks
  • Howard Bryant, author and senior writer, ESPN The Magazine and
  • John Carlos, ’05 Honorary Doctorate, Olympic medalist and OPHR member
  • Harry Edwards, ’64 Sociology, ’16 Honorary Doctorate, OPHR and ISSSSC founder
  • Spencer Haywood, former basketball player and Olympic gold medalist
  • Paul Hoffman, coxswain, U.S. Olympic rowing team for the 1968 Olympics
  • Cleve Livingston, member, U.S. Olympic rowing team for the 1968 Olympics
  • Bill Rhoden, author and former Peabody-award winning sports columnist, writer-at-large for ESPN’s The Undefeated
  • Kenneth Shropshire, Adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport and CEO of the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University
  • Tommie Smith, ’69 Social Science, ’05 Honorary Doctorate, Olympic gold medalist and world record setter
  • Toni Smith-Thompson, former college athlete and activist, advocacy department organizer, New York Civil Liberties Union
  • Marc Spears, ’95 Journalism, senior writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated
  • Damion Thomas, author and curator of sports at the National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Wyomia Tyus, Olympic gold medalist
  • Steve Wyche, reporter, NFL Network


8 a.m. Media registration

8:30 a.m. Program begins


Paul Lanning, CEO, Tower Foundation of SJSU


Mary A. Papazian, President, SJSU

SJSU Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change

Ted Butryn, ISSSSC Interim Director

Panel 1: The Voices of 1968

Olympians who both experienced and actively participated in the events of Mexico City in 1968 share their stories and the repercussions of their actions when they returned home.


  • Kenneth Shropshire


  • John Carlos
  • Spencer Haywood
  • Paul Hoffman
  • Cleve Livingston
  • Tommie Smith
  • Wyomia Tyus


Panel 2: Bridging the Gap: Perspectives on Athlete Activism in an Era of Growth

In the 1980s and 90s, athletes gained economic and social capital, but were less likely to engage in athlete activism. Athlete-activists and scholars discuss those who came forward to stand for social justice issues.


  • Bill Rhoden


  • Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf
  • C. Keith Harrison
  • Toni Smith-Thompson
  • Damion Thomas

Panel 3 – The Kaepernick Era

What is the social impact of today’s activism by professional, college and high school athletes against police brutality and social injustices, and the larger trend against the “shut up and dribble” sentiment? Panelists discuss how a 50-year history has led to a new wave of activism.


  • Maureen Smith


  • Nate Boyer
  • Jules Boykoff
  • Howard Bryant
  • Marc Spears
  • Steve Wyche

Concluding Remarks: The Arc of Athlete Activism

Harry Edwards lends perspective and insight on the waves of athlete activism to date, from the earliest pioneers to the voices of today, and provides his thoughts on the power of protest and what we can expect to see next in the politically charged era in which we find ourselves today.

Press opportunity immediately follows


Members of the media should RSVP now to:

Robin McElhatton,

Professional video and photography will be available upon request.


Tickets for students, faculty, staff and the public are available online.

About San Jose State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San Jose State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study—offered through its eight colleges.

With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San Jose State University continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing more than 7,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 220,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.