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08/30/2016 03:28 pm ET

Legendary Olympian Says He Supports Colin Kaepernick '1,000 Percent'

John Carlos, whose silent protest on the Olympic podium in 1968 made him an icon, says he understands the NFL player's motivations.

Few athletes understand what San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is enduring in the wake of his silent national anthem protest better than John Carlos.

The 71-year-old former track and field star, whose barefoot, black-gloved silent protest on the podium during the 1968 Olympics became one of the most iconic images of both the civil rights era and the Olympic Games, is firmly in Kaepernick’s corner.

“When you sit back and think about the issues that confronted him, it took a tremendous amount of courage for him to do that. I’m aware that he’s aware he has walked into the midst of a storm,” Carlos told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday. “I’ve got his back. I support him 1,000 percent.”

U.S. athletes Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos (R) raise their gloved fists in solidarity with human rights to express t
AFP/Getty Images
U.S. athletes Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos (R) raise their gloved fists in solidarity with human rights to express their opposition to racism in the U.S. during the U.S. national anthem, after receiving their medals on Oct. 17, 1968, for first and third place in the men's 200m event at the Mexico Olympic Games. At left is Peter Norman of Australia, who took second place.

During Friday’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick remained seated during the playing of the national anthem. He later told NFL.com it was his way of protesting the treatment of black Americans. 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

During the 1968 Olympics, Carlos, who won bronze in the 200-meter dash, along with U.S. teammate Tommie Smith, who won gold, made a bold statement on a world stage to protest the treatment of black Americans.  

The two took the podium in bare feet, to symbolize the poverty of black Americans. They wore black gloves, which they raised in the air when the “Star Spangled Banner” played. (Smith has since said their protest was misinterpreted as one for the Black Power movement, when it was intended as one for all human rights.)

Speaking on San Francisco’s 95.7 FM Monday, Carlos expanded on his view of Kaepernick’s protest.

John Carlos, who won bronze in the 1968 Olympics, stands on the campus track at Palm Springs High School, where he is a
Alex Gallardo / Reuters
John Carlos, who won bronze in the 1968 Olympics, stands on the campus track at Palm Springs High School, where he is a teacher and counsellor in Palm Springs, California, on July 11, 2012.

“My view of him sitting down is the same as Rosa Parks sitting on the bus. Rosa Parks was making a statement. Colin is making a statement as well,” Carlos said.

Carlos applauded the way Kaepernick is using the NFL’s large audience to highlight issues of racism, police brutality and inequality.

“We come out to make these statements to encourage other people to raise their voices enough that people will sit down and have some common discussion about social issues that have been pushed under the rug for eons,” he said.

Carlos also hinted that if history is any indication, the vitriol directed at Kaepernick now may eventually soften. He noted that the backlash to his protest ― which included a ban from the Olympic Village and anonymous death threats back home ― has now morphed into most people seeing his statement as iconic and noble.

“Kaepernick and the football players from St. Louis ― those are the fruits of our labor in the ‘60s,” Carlos said. “You think about Bill Russell or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Muhammad Ali ... they were encouraging young people to step up.”

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