8.15.16: Athlete Activism, the Race to the North Pole, & the Rise of the Sufferfests

Aug 15, 2016

In the 1968 Olympic games, American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the medal stand - with the eyes of the world upon them - and raised their fists to the sky. Today, John Carlos talks about athletic activism today and the force of that protest nearly fifty years ago.

Plus, the multi-million dollar industry of suffering. A filmmaker explores why people pay money to grind through obstacle courses races through mud, icy ponds and electric shocks? Are we primitive beings taking flight from desk jobs? Or does running through fire just make for a better Facebook post?

Listen to the full show. 

Athlete Activism

The Olympic games strain national budgets and infrastructure, and the competitions stretch the limits of the human body, but rarely do the games push the boundaries with political statements. In the 1968 games, American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos did. After placing first and third in the men's 200-meter race, the eyes of the world were upon them, standing shoeless on the medals podium, when they took a stand.

Dave Zirin from the documentary, Not Just a Game described one of the most iconic images of protest from the civil rights era. The champions forfeited their medals, were kicked off the team, and sent home.

Now, Dr. John Carlos  is speaking out about the fallout from that seminal moment, and the role of athletes as activists.  

The Race to the North Pole

At the turn of the 20th century, the North Pole was one of the last uncharted sites remaining on earth. Parties of explorers set out only to be turned back or killed attempting to plant their flags at the top of the world. So, it was big news when, in April of 1909, Robert Peary claimed he'd reached the geographic pole after eight trials in 23 years. We aren't going to jump into the dispute over whether another expedition beat him to it; instead, we'll focus on the man who was with him, an African American explorer named Matthew Henson who may actually have been the first to set foot on the terrestrial north pole.

Brian Clark Howard is a senior writer for National Geographic who marked what would have been the 150th birthday of Matthew Henson.

Run DNC, Run RNC

The federal government wants you to be fit - but they haven't always invested so much energy in that department.  This story is about the origin of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test comes to us from Brian Balogh of Backstory with the American History Guys - and it starts during World War II.

You can listen to this story again at PRX.org. 

Rise of the Sufferfests

Obstacle race courses, or OCRs - Tough Guy, Tough Mudder, the Spartan race and countless spin-offs are a half billion dollar industry. About 5 million people - more than twice the number who run marathon or half-marathons combined - have waged war on their own bodies…and paid for the privilege.  Why? That’s the question investigative journalist Scott Keneally tried to answer on assignment for Outside magazine...and he became a convert. His new film is called The Rise of the Sufferfests.