Pushkin Industries has teamed with Tracksmith and Puma for a six-part podcast called “Legacy of Speed” that highlights the history of the San Jose State track and field program of the 1960s.
Bestselling author and avid middle-distance runner Malcolm Gladwell will host the upcoming series. Legendary sprinters Tommie Smith, Lee Evans and John Carlos sprang from the team. Smith and Carlos medaled at the 1968 Summer Olympics and as the U.S. national anthem played during their medal ceremony, each man raised a black glove-covered fist overhead as a sign of solidarity with Black people and in opposition to racial injustice in the world. Listeners of “Legacy of Speed” will learn how the duo helped pave the way for modern-day activism in sports by standing in protest.
Noting “how the men let the whole world watch as they turned a sports event into a political statement,” Gladwell emphasized that “nobody did this back then.” He said, “The Olympics was this pristine cathedral of amateurism. There was no politics allowed. There was no money allowed. These guys were like, ‘That’s ridiculous. How can we be young Black men in 1968, be on a world stage and pretend that political issues are not a part of our everyday life?’”
The series will be available as June 14 via Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify and other resources. It will include one live episode from the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Gladwell, who also hosts the “Revisionist History” podcast, described “Legacy of Speed” as “an incredibly relevant story, because the questions raised by the athletes back in ‘68, ‘What is the right way to protest injustice?’”
He continued, “We’re still wrestling with those same issues today. It’s a story that takes place 50 years ago but still seems incredibly contemporary. We’ve just gone through the George Floyd protests, Colin Kaepernick [kneeling in protest during the national anthem at NFL games], the manager of the San Francisco Giants [Gabe Kapler recently] deciding to sit out the national anthem. There are endless versions of this. To tell how that debate got started struck me as a really important thing to do.”
Tracksmith and Puma provided the money to produce “Speed City.” The Tracksmith investment was a six-digit one, according to founder and chief executive officer Matt Taylor.
Gladwell didn’t need any convincing to get on board, having bought running clothes from the brand for years. So much so that a Tracksmith employee took note and suggested reaching out to Gladwell, who later wrote the words and handled the voiceover for two Tracksmith commercials.
He is also all in favor of corporations stepping in to take a leadership role in addressing social issues. “I love it. It’s so fantastic. There is such a vacuum in this country with the disintegration or fragmentation of all of these traditional institutions that used to speak to this kind of stuff. What’s happening is that brands like Tracksmith are saying, ‘We have a role to play. We have an audience. We have a platform and a brand that means something to people. Why wouldn’t we use it to tell important stories?”
Above all, the series is about how to protest when confronted with something that you consider wrong or that you would like to address. “What is the best way of making a difference or trying to right that wrong? There is a variety of strategic and tactile choices to you. There is real confusion about what the best of the those approaches is,” Gladwell said. “The question that we address in ‘Legacy of Speed’ is, ‘Should you boycott or should you participate and speak up?’ Those are two radically different approaches with two radically different implications.”
Carlos and Williams were working through that problem in 1968 and we continue to do the same today, according to Gladwell. “These are incredibly thoughtful pioneers. Harry Edwards is still at the center of these debates,” he said, adding there is no universally right answer. “Every situation demands its own response.”
There is more on Speed City to come, according to Taylor. A Speed City-inspired Tracksmith and Puma collaboration is due out later this year. Having started Tracksmith in 2014, Taylor said he is not interested in speaking with Puma about being acquired. Asked if Puma is interested, he said, “they have not — no. That would be news to me.”