Players or pawns?: student-athletes, human rights activism, nonviolent protest and cultures of peace at the 1968 summer olympics

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Hrynkow, Christopher
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The image of two US athletes with black glove-covered fists raised on the podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics is iconic. However, despite a number of academic studies, articles, books, lectures and films addressing this moment, the deeper story behind that student-athlete protest at Mexico 68 is little known. It was far from being a merely spontaneous or violent action. In fact, the protest was part of a concerted and largely peaceful effort to highlight several systemic injustices of the late 1960s by a group named the Olympic Project for Human Rights. As will be demonstrated in this thesis, it follows that the deeper story of the student-athlete protests at Mexico 68 are ripe with significance from both: (1) a Peace Studies perspective, focussing on structural injustice, and (2) a Conflict Resolution Studies viewpoint, which upholds value in the constructive settling of disputes. Employing a Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) lens, which keeps both sets of concerns in view, and undertaking descriptive and analytical approaches that bring the voice of the athletes to the fore as much as possible given the limitations of this study, allows for a discussion of remarkable student-athletes interacting not only within the competitive structure of their sport at the Olympics, but also amongst social, institutional, and political contexts. This approach becomes foundational for the conclusion that the athletes involved in protests at Mexico 68 were players (i.e., agents) and not pawns, in relation to complex socio-political forces, which sought to manipulate and oppress them. Moreover, this PACS approach allows for twelve concrete lessons flowing from the stories of the athletes to be delineated for their contemporary relevance in a world where far too many injustices remain. In short, the main protest is herein presented as an awe-inspiring moment, simultaneously as a compass and a key, which when integrated with a PACS perspective serves to guide us towards a fuller understanding of the Olympic Project for Human Rights and it goals, unlocking what is revealed in this study to be a potentially important moment in the history of cultures of peace.
Nonviolent activism, Olympic Project for Human Rights, Cultures of peace, Social justice, Cross-cultural equity, Student-athletes, Positive social change, Sport history, US history, 1960s