Lee Evans dies after stroke: a fist for justice

Lee Evans dies after a stroke
A fist for justice

The iconic protest against racial discrimination at the 1968 Olympic Games is followed by a less well-known one: Lee Evans raises his fist for Black Power after his victory in the 400 meters – and experiences a different fate. Now Evans has passed away at the age of 74, but his legacy lives on.

400-meter Olympic champion and world record holder Lee Evans is dead. The former world-class athlete from the USA died at the age of 74 in the Nigerian metropolis of Lagos, the national association USATF announced. A week earlier, Evans, who was still a coach, had suffered a stroke there.

The athlete, who was born in Madera, California, made history at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City: Evans, then 21, achieved a milestone in 43.86 seconds, becoming the first 400-meter sprinter to stay under 44 seconds. “I was so tired that I knew I had done something I had never done before,” Evans once told NBC Sports about the seconds after his record run for a film about the 1968 Games. “I wasn’t sure I won. Nobody told me I won, they just said, ‘Lee, you bastard.’ I asked, ‘Who won?’ ”

“Like circus horses rewarded with peanuts”

Then caused a stir at the award ceremony: like his compatriots Tommie Smith and John Carlos before at the 200-meter award ceremony, he protested against racial discrimination in the USA: Evans, a member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), wore the Pedestal a black beret as a symbol of the Black Panther and black stockings. Smith and Carlos, both running for the same college as Evans, had been cracked down on and removed from the Olympics after their famous and iconic protest. In a statement, the two later announced, among other things: “As long as we do what the whites want, they treat us as good boys. In reality, however, they see us as circus horses that are rewarded with peanuts.”

Evans initially wanted to boycott his run in protest, but his running colleagues are said to have convinced him to start. Before the race, an official warned him not to protest like Smith and Carlos because there was fear that the entire US team would be kicked out, Evans said. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old used the moment of victory in Mexico for another demonstration of resistance and black power. Since the USA was still looking to win the 4 × 400 meter relay, Evans was not sent home. And he actually won gold in this discipline afterwards.

Lee Evans’ 400 meter world record was only broken 20 years later, on August 17, 1988, by his compatriot Butch Reynolds (43.29 seconds). The fight of the sprinter and activist against racial discrimination and police violence in the USA continues to this day, especially in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, many athletes take part.