(Reuters) – Former U.S. sprinter Tommie Smith, who was sent home from the 1968 Olympics after he raised a black-gloved fist on the medal podium following his triumph in the 200 metres, will be on the cover of a Wheaties cereal box.
The iconic General Mills cereal brand, which for decades has been synonymous with celebrity athletes on the cover of its orange boxes, said on Friday the “racial equity trailblazer” will be honored with a limited-edition box in April.
“As a world champion, I always wanted to be on a Wheaties box,” Smith, 76, said in a news release. “To now be recognized by Wheaties and selected to grace the cover of their box, in the class with other great champion athletes, is an honor.”
On one side of the box Smith is shown as a black silhouette raising a right fist and standing on a podium while the other side shows a young Smith running in a singlet.
Smith and compatriot John Carlos finished first and third, respectively, at the Mexico City Olympics and then launched an unprecedented protest on behalf of oppressed American blacks when they stood on the podium with heads bowed and fists raised.
The image became an enduring symbol of the turbulent 1960s and the fight for racial equality. It was widely interpreted as a black power salute, but Smith later described it as a “human rights salute.”
The protest, which occurred amid the civil rights movement in the United States and not long after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, cost both sprinters dearly.
At home they were heroes to their contemporaries, and pariahs to the establishment.
Both were suspended from the U.S. Olympic team and sent home, where they received death threats and hate mail. Carlos’s wife committed suicide, Smith’s first marriage collapsed and both men struggled for years to make a living.
“While Tommie was a world champion runner, his work as one of the original activist athletes laid the foundation for champions to use their platform and stand for something extraordinary,” said Taylor Gessell, brand experience manager for Wheaties.
“We are proud to honor this true champion and trailblazer with this special commemorative Wheaties box.”
Wheaties has been highlighting athletes on its cereal boxes for nearly 90 years, starting with New York Yankees great and Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig in 1934.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)