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The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World [Hardcover]

Dave Zirin , John Wesley Carlos , Cornel West
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 4 2011
Nominated for an NAACP Image Award, Outstanding Literary Work Autobiography/Biography

Seen around the world, John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salute on the 1968 Olympic podium sparked controversy and career fallout. Yet their show of defiance remains one of the most iconic images of Olympic history and the Black Power movement. Here is the remarkable story of one of the men behind the salute, lifelong activist John Carlos.

John Carlos is an African American former track and field athlete, professional football player, and a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. He won the bronze medal in the 200 meters race at the 1968 Olympics, where his Black Power salute on the podium with Tommie Smith caused much political controversy. The John Carlos Story is his first book.

Dave Zirin is the author of four books, including Bad Sports, A People's History of Sports in the United States, and What's My Name, Fool? He writes the popular weekly online sports column "The Edge of Sports" and is a regular contributor to, SLAM, Los Angeles Times, and The Nation, where he is the publication's first sports editor.

Product Details

Product Description


"John Carlos is an American hero. And finally he has written a memoir to tell us his story—and a powerful story it is. I couldn't put this book down."
--Michael Moore

"Biblically, athletes with superior attributes were seen as gifts from God. Whether it was Samson staring down the Philistines or David slaying Goliath, they and latter-day heroes such as Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, selflessly used their gifts and magnificently magnified platforms to transform society. It is in that tradition that John Carlos, and his teammate Tommie Smith, raised their fists in solidarity with the American civil rights struggle, as well as the struggles of those who exist on the downside of advantage. It was a statement for the ages. This act of righteous defiance lifted us all to a new level of dignity and shared responsibility to improve the conditions of the poor the world over...But the price of heroism is high. John Carlos paid and this is his story."
--Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

"The John Carlos story is the remarkable chronicle of an epic life sketched against the defining crisis of race in America. Carlos' athletic genius on the field is matched by his heroic will to overcome trials and tribulations in his personal life, and to find resurrection in his professional life. This is an inspiring and eloquent story about a great American whose commitment to truth, justice and democracy were tested and found true."
--Michael Eric Dyson

"John Carlos' life story is an insightful and gripping look at the times he lived and the Olympics he helped make so memorable. He shows us that the one day that made him famous was only the most outward and visible sign of a touching and thoughtful life."
--Frank Deford

"The John Carlos Story is a blow by blow detail of triumph vs tragedy from the jump. Again Dave Zirin uncovers, and yet illuminates the mere footnotes of this sports history hero with his impeccable balance of truth. This story drills a hole into the myth of black athlete success and worship."
--Chuck D, Public Enemy

"In this breathlessly readable tale, John Carlos finally steps out of that iconic photograph to become the vibrant, fascinating hero we never really knew."
--Robert Lipsyte, author of An Accidental Sportswriter, a memoir

"John Carlos's story of bravery and sacrifice will warm your heart. But beyond his individual heroism, it speaks to the power of athletes who bodaciously refuse to just "shut up and play." Carlos and Zirin capture the way that through sports, the actions of a few athletes resonate across the globe."
--William Hunter, Executive Director, National Basketball Players Association

"An intelligent and insightful look into the journey of one of our most underrated heroes. Mr. Carlos' passion for justice and fairness has changed our world. You can feel his passion (and his anger) in every word."
--Jemele Hill, ESPN columnist and television analyst

"John Carlos tells a compelling story of courage and the consequences of action. He, Tommie Smith and many other Black athletes took a stand against racial injustice in the U.S. and racial injustice in sports. They were ridiculed by many mainstream commentators at the time, but their actions helped to transform both the sports world and this country. This book was by and about someone who has been and remains one of my heroes."
--Bill Fletcher, Jr., editorial board member,

"History tells us iconic moments in sport are always enveloped in personal stories of sacrifice, courage, and angst. The lasting images that we see occur in a flash contain enriching back stories that are typically even more significant and tragic than the moment itself. John Carlos and Dave Zirin have combined to tell such a story. The moment that two men stood on the world platform to take a stand after they had become the best in the world is rich, complicated but most importantly as relevant today as it was in Mexico City. Dave brings a beautiful and passionate voice of truth to his listeners and achieves the same in this book about a man who became a legend. I am proud to call him my friend."
--DeMaurice Smith, Director NFL Players Assiciation

"The Nation's sports columnist Dave Zirin combines the passion of the most rabid sports nut with the intellectual rigor of the most learned Hegelian."
-- Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor, The Nation

"Not since Hunter S. Thompson has a sports writer shown the right snarl for the job."
-- Naomi Klein

About the Author

John Carlos is an African American former track and field athlete and professional football player, and a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. He won the bronze-medal in the 200 meters race at the 1968 Summer Olympics, where his Black Power salute on the podium with Tommie Smith caused much political controversy. He went on to equal the world record in the 100 yard dash and beat the 200 meters world record. After his track career, he enjoyed brief stints in the National Football League and Canadian Football League but retired due to injury. He became involved with the United States Olympic Committee and helped to organize the 1984 Summer Olympics. He later became a track coach at a high school in Palm Springs, where he now resides. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2003.

Dave Zirin is the author of four books, including Bad Sports, A Peoples' History of Sports in the United States, What’s My Name Fool! and Welcome to the Terrordome. He writes the popular weekly online sports column “The Edge of Sports” ( and is a regular contributor to, SLAM, the Los Angeles Times, and The Nation where he is the publication's first Sports Editor. He lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Reliving my past Feb. 13 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It was really refreshing to read the story behind the fist. I remember the Olympics in Mexico and I remember the stance Carlos and Smith made that day. I understood why they did it, but to read what happened after and how both their lives and their families were affected made me more proud of them, because when you do right it is a hard and lonely road to travel. Thank God things have turned around. Really a great book for every generation to read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Respect at its finest Oct. 8 2011
By Shamontiel L. Vaughn - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It's very seldom that I read a free copy of a book (or a reviewer copy) and then go out and buy my own final copy of it because I liked it that much, but this book was that deal. There's an Amazon reviewer that I used to chat with years ago who had a photograph of John Carlos and Tommie Smith as his avatar. I asked him what that photo was about, and he gave me an overview, but I never bothered to really investigate the 1968 Olympic incident. However, I was trying to find another book and the cover of this one caught my attention. I figured it was no better time than now to finally read all the details about these guys pumping their fist in the air.

It wasn't that I wasn't interested in the topic before. I just thought it was going to deal more with sports than history. Not sure why. Just an assumption I made and stuck to. But there was an incredible amount of history in this read, from John Carlos' experience with Malcolm X to why he couldn't swim in training pools to the struggles he endured going from Harlem to going to a college that clearly didn't have much love for black people. What I loved about the book was he refused to assimilate. He seemed to have zero interest in ever conforming to Jim Crow laws. But his entire childhood was filled with incidents of him rebelling against the norm so I couldn't imagine anyone in his family being surprised that he WOULD be the person at the Olympics who would do exactly what he did.

I was disappointed to hear about him cheating on his first wife and a little skeptical of his overview about why he and Tommie stopped being friends later down the line (I'd be interested in reading their sides of that story although I was pleased that he didn't run his first wife's name through the ground; he was very respectful when talking about both his friend and his first wife, as well as his second wife). I just didn't get why through all the drama he was going through he would add more drama to it, but to each his own.

Either way, I think this book should be required reading in history courses, and not just in February either.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Autobiography of John Carlos.... or Malcolm X? Sept. 26 2011
By Julia K. - Published on
As I read Zirin's latest book, I kept thinking that it didn't remind me so much of a sports memoir as the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Admittedly, it started to occur to me because I just read the Malcolm X book for the first time, and there's a story early on in the John Carlos book of young Carlos walking down the streets of Harlem talking smack with Malcolm himself. The comparisons though are more because both stories are rooted in Harlem during the 50s and 60s and both stories are about the perils of daring to have Black pride. The difference of course is that Malcolm was assassinated and John Carlos lived to tell us his story. It's a tale of redemption and rage that I read in two sittings. I just can't recommend it enough. Zirin's best.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a powerful book does... Oct. 16 2011
By Jeremiah - Published on
I can simply say 'The John Carlos Story' is perhaps one of the most powerful books I have ever read. The life of one of the most controversial sports figures in the last half a century needed to be explained in this format. It is so interesting to read about how this change-maker began his life, his humble beginnings and his humble results leading up to today. The takeaway for is a newfound inspiration to be a better person, to seek out injustice, and find ways to put the light on it. Can't say enough good things about the book. Just wish it was longer!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Sept. 26 2011
By Tom Joad - Published on
I had the opportunity to see John Carlos and Dave Zirin speak at Socialism 2011 and it was an amazing experience. Dr. Carlos' story runs through one of the most tumultuous eras in American history, and his perspective as a participant and his experiences are literally invaluable. In the aftermath of the murder of Troy Davis, this book provides glimpses into our more radical past - and to add some personal views to this review, hopefully glimpses into our future. A very moving, beautiful story that really hasn't been told before.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Explains this pivitol point in history April 3 2013
By Dennis Hinkamp - Published on
There are so few books on track and field that I hate to even give this a 4-star...but you shouldn't forgive fact checking just because the topic isn't covered often. It gave a great perspective on this pivotal moment in sports and protest history. The book fails a little when Carlos goes a little Satchel Page on his accomplishments and history....for instance when he talks about trying to gamble all his savings to buy a pair of track shoes that in 1964 would have been about $20 or less when he had just previously bragged about all the money he hustled as a 12 year old. And no, I don't believe a 13 year old could outrun all the cops while carrying 50 pounds of stolen food on his shoulders.

Okay just chalk that up to your grandpa telling stories. The rest is a great story about the hipocracy of the Olympics and how track and field didn't pay anything until recent years. And it has a happy ending.

I'm going to buy the poster; shame on Amazon not having the most iconic image in sports history posted with this book description.

As a follow up might I suggest a the 90 min Australian-produced documentary "Salute"
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