50 Years Later, Olympics Welcomes Back Black Sprinter Banned For Protest

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has lifted the lifetime ban imposed on American gold medalist sprinter Vince Matthews for his low-key racial injustice protest 50 years ago.

The IOC said that Matthews would be allowed to attend future Olympics, according to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland, The Associated Press reports.

“The IOC sent a letter that does reverse the suspension of Vince Matthews,” Hirshland said. “This is good news and a long time coming.”

The IOC banned Matthews, now 74, and silver medalist Wayne Collett from the Olympics for life one day after a protest during their medal ceremony at the Munich Games in 1972. 

During their ceremony, Collett stood with his hands on his hips as the national anthem played. According to the AP, Matthews rubbed his goatee while crossing his arms and shifting his feet. This was reportedly done in protest of U.S. civil rights policies. As he and Collett headed for the tunnel, fans booed them. 

The day after the ceremony, the athletes explained why they did it. 

“For maybe six or seven years, I’ve stood at attention while the anthem has been played out, but I just can’t do it with a clear conscience anymore the way things are in our country,” Collett said.

“People are standing at attention, and they want you to stand at attention, too, and forget the things around you. It’s impossible,” Matthews said at the time. 

Collett passed away at age 60 in 2010.

In an email to NBCSports.com last year, Matthews wrote: “My Olympic participation ended almost 50 years ago.” He continued, “Over the years, I have made a concerted effort to move with an eye toward the future. I live by the following quote `When looking back doesn’t interest you anymore, you’re doing the right thing.’ At this point in my life, the right thing is looking/moving forward and not looking backward.”

Brian Lewis, president of the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees, was instrumental in keeping the issue alive and in front of the IOC. When he learned of Matthews’ reinstatement from the IOC, he tweeted that it was a “positive step.”

Hirshland said the USOPC had not been in contact with Matthews since the letter was sent.

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