Next year marks the 50th Anniversary of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ iconic raised fists at the 1968 Summer Olympics. The act was a moment of defiance and protest meant to draw international attention to America’s racial unrest.
Next year also marks the suede PUMA’s 50th year anniversary and in honor of the company’s most popular release, Puma is setting off a year-long celebration, highlighted by introducing 50 unique drops of the classic sneaker.
Smith, raising a black glove covered right-handed fist in the air in ‘68, also held a suede Puma in his left hand. Making him the perfect person to represent the classic silhouette going forward.
“I loved those shoes and took them to the victory stand because they reminded me of me,” Smith explains. “They were strong, unassuming and dark.”
In the years after Smith’s moment, the suede Puma earned a rep as a go-to for break dancers and b-boys alike. It became part of a uniform for those who pushed hip-hop from the margins into worldwide dominance. Through the years Puma has always attracted those who consider themselves slightly adjacent to the mainstream. You can see that today with pop culture line-stepper Rihanna, whose PUMA Fenty collection continues to push the envelope of lifestyle athletic wear.
It explains why someone like Smith would have on Puma’s on that fateful day in Mexico City the first place. Though Smith and Carlos faced a hard road in the immediate aftermath (though they won gold and bronze in the 20-meter sprint they were ordered to leave the stadium and ostracized by the track community) in the long run they won the war. Both Smith and Carlos are immortalized with statues at the National Museum of African-American History in Washington D.C.
In our present political climate, both men are constantly referenced as athletic role models. Decades later, they’ve transcended track & field and placed themselves firmly in the annals of history as freedom fighters.