Lee Evans, 400m gold medalist at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, Black Power activist, and track coach died on Wednesday at the age of 74. Evans was part of the legendary San Jose State Spartans of the 1960s under coach Bud Winter. His Spartan teammates Tommie Smith and John Carlos are forever in American history with their black-gloved fists thrust in the air while on the 200m podium. However, they were not the only demonstrators at the games.
Evans and his fellow 400m medalists, Larry James and Ron Freeman, all three Black men wore black berets on the podium while they received their medals. Not only to show their support for the other demonstrations but support for the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party. Evans being from San Jose, was close to the heart of the Panther Party in nearby Oakland.
BREAKING NEWS: Olympic gold medalist, world record holder, USATF Hall of Famer and human rights activist Lee Evans died Wednesday at age 74. pic.twitter.com/rngsfNbW90
— USATF (@usatf) May 19, 2021
After the Olympics, Evans went on to coach across the Middle East and Africa as well as America and supported social justice movements in America as well. After winning his gold medal in the 400m, Evans remarked:
“I feel I won this gold medal for Black people in the United States and Black people all over the world.”
As a student at San Jose State, Evans was a part of many organizations focused on social justice and civil rights. After Smith and Carlos performed their protest and were banned from the Olympics, Evans almost dropped out of his races which were later in the week. However, he and his teammates raced and donned their berets and threw their fists in the air. When the national anthem played, they each took their berets and fists down. The IOC spared them the same fate as the famous duo due to this.
His impact on the sport and all sports will never truly be known. It is far too large to quantify the influence he may have had on the world. He would go on to set the world record in the 400m at the Olympics which stood for 20 years. The 4x400m relay team also set a world record that stood for over 24 years. The track world has lost one of the greatest and brightest it has ever had.
Our thoughts are with Mr. Evans’ family, friends, and loved ones as they grieve their loss.