Smith and Carlos famously bowed their heads and held their black-gloved fists to the sky on the medal stand as the national anthem played at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. The men said the action was meant to not only represent the struggle for racial equality in America, but the universal struggle for basic human rights.
The award recognition comes at a time when the 2008 Beijing Olympics are under protest and scrutiny due to China’s human-rights violations.
“Four decades after a moment etched forever in sports history -- and also 40 years since Arthur Ashe’s first U.S. Open victory -- issues of race and social inequality remain an integral part of our daily discourse, enveloping both sports and politics,” said Maura Mandt, executive producer of the 2008 ESPYs, in a statement. “The protests swirling around the Beijing Olympics and athletes being asked to sign waivers stating that they will refrain from demonstrations reinforce the importance and relevance of this story.”