Carl Lewis Supports Political Games

Eric Feferberg—AFP/Getty Images

Carl Lewis won nine Olympic gold medals, including four at the boycotted 1984 Games. During his reign, he often accused his competitors of cheating and doping. (Lewis’s rival Ben Johnson was eventually stripped of a medal and world record for steroid use). Lewis spoke about sports, drugs, and politics outside the Sports Museum of America the other day.

Do you support a boycott of the Beijing Olympics?

No one has stopped buying products from China, but they’re telling the athletes not to go. They have one shot in the world. They train their whole life to make the Olympics and people are telling them not to go. You know what? Stop buying Chinese products. Buy American only. Pay more money. Show your sacrifice. We have to be in this together. My thing is, last time 600 athletes didn’t get to go…. Let the athletes go.

What about a Presidential boycott?
Let’s be real. Isn’t the president’s job to lead, not to sit back and let America feel good? We need leadership in this area. It’ about time we get positive leadership from this administration. This is an opportunity to do it, so I support it. I don’t think he should be there.

At the opening ceremonies or-?
I don’t want to see him anywhere.

The Olympic Charter has prohibitions against political symbols on the grounds.
You can’t stop people from speaking out. That’s free speech. I don’t disagree with people speaking out about issues they believe in. If they say, it’s not political, that’s just hogwash. It is political but that doesn’t mean it’s negative. If you want to say something about an issue, you should do it.

I remember when I first started speaking out against drugs more than 20 years ago, everyone jumped all over me. “Don’t say that. It’s our job to stop it.” Then all the sudden I’m a profit two years later when Ben Johnson is caught. So I believe individuals should be allowed to speak what they believe, and that’s a great forum for them to get their point across.

What about the black power moment at the ’68 Olympics in Mexico?
I know Thomas Smith and John Carlos very well, and it’s just amazing to me. We totally disrespect the victory stand now. People stand around; they look down; they do whatever they want. They actually stood there at attention and raised their fists for something they believed in. Isn’t that really what America is about? They didn’t disrespect it. A lot of people were supposed to take a stand, and they didn’t. That tells you something about who they are and what they are, and forty years later they’ve moved on with their lives and it cost them so much in their lives. How many people make that sacrifice?

Do you think athletes are scared to speak out because of advertising dollars?
Athletes and people. Ninety-nine percent of all people or more are afraid to take a stand. That’s why we have great people in our history like a Dr. King or Bobby Kennedy or John Kennedy because everyone else couldn’t, wouldn’t take that stand. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them. I believe there are really three types. There is a type that’s going to stand up and take the hit. There is the type that says I want to stand up, but I’ll stand up with you. There is a type that’s just going to sit back. You have to find out what type you are and live your life because you have to live with yourself.

Did you know there were a lot of drugs in the sport?

There were not a lot when I was in the sport, and that’s one of the things that bothers me. I’ve been away for ten years, and there are a lot more now. But I knew the people who were on drugs. You don’t know a hundred percent, but it’s just like, if some guy comes in, all the sudden he’s doing crack cocaine. You’re not going to notice the difference? Come on. Their performance changes; their behavior changes; they look different.

The bottom line is, I believe the athletes that represent the United States in the Olympics should be able to speak out, say whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want. They should say what they want and speak out. Wouldn’t it be great if every Olympic gold medalist since ’72 said something? That would be so much bigger and last so much longer and make so much bigger a statement than for everyone to stay home.

Thanks to the “New York” reporter who co-interviewed Lewis.

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