Publication Date

Summer 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication Studies


Kathleen McConnell


Harry Edwards, John Carlos, San Jose State, Tommie Smith

Subject Areas



The recent romanticization and celebration of the Tommie Smith and John Carlos 1968 Mexico City Olympic Protest has allowed contemporary American society to recognize both athletes as heroes and pioneers within the Civil Rights movement. They have been honored with of a number of awards both nationally and internationally, as well as memorialized with a 22-foot high statue that was erected on the campus of San José State University in 2005. From once being ostracized as national villains, Smith and Carlos have come full circle in how they are referenced within public consciousness. However this recent transformation on the part of contemporary society has come at a cost. While they are no longer vilified as radicals, the current treatment of their legacy erases much of the rhetorical work and political agency that their protest generated. In this thesis, using Kenneth Burke's "Equipment for Living," I offer an alternate reading of their protest, highlighting the importance of access. Through a critique of their legacy as it is currently written, I argue that if we recognize the Smith and Carlos narrative as a "story about access" as opposed to a "story about personal merit," it functions as more effective "Equipment for Living" by helping to codify reoccurring situations in which people have limited access to valuable social institutions and resources.