Conflict and Resolution through Sports: A Question of Civil Rights: The 1968 Olympics and Tlatelolco

byCarol M Petett
When developing curriculum today it is more important than ever to keep in mind the diversity of the many students we teach. In the Pittsburgh Public Schools our population does not reflect a large Latino or Hispanic community. However, young people today are less reluctant than previous generations to leave the homes of their birth to further their education, find jobs and raise their families. While many of our students have been exposed only to what has been termed "Old Immigration" groups their experiences today and in the future will bring them into contact with a more diverse population than their current experiences. With that in mind it becomes the responsibility of the class room teacher to prepare students not only academically and socially for their future but also to prepare them to appreciate and understand the contributions of other peoples representing the "New Immigrants" to the United States.

This curriculum unit was developed through the Yale National Initiative seminar Art and Identity in Mexico from Olmec Times to the Present. This unit will be divided into four parts. The first part of this unit will provide background information on the formation of team sports beginning with the Olmecs of Mesoamerica. The unit will also include background information on the early Olympics in Greece and the creation of the modern Olympics, beginning with its creation in the nineteenth century. The third part of the unit will look at the Mexico Olympics of 1968 against the backdrop of the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City. Included throughout the unit will be examples of conflict resolution, with the fourth part of the unit defining and giving further examples of the use of conflict resolution through sports. This curriculum unit will be taught in a ninth grade Civics class but may be applicable to any American Democracy or United States history curriculum.


When studying history and government it is important to look at the contribution of people native to this hemisphere. Usually we look to the contributions of people from Europe, especially Western Europe. No doubt this is due to the large numbers of people who immigrated to the United States from Western European countries. Along with their religion they also brought a written language and books. They also brought a system of laws that were written into these books. Many of their laws were based upon the teachings of the Bible and the popular belief was that these laws were handed down by God.

As these people from Europe with their laws steeped in Biblical tradition explored the world and came in contact with people different from themselves, some with no written language or an unfamiliar language and with religions not known or understood, it was common to consider these new groups of people as uncivilized. With no ability or knowledge of how to read the records of these newly subjugated people it was easy to call them uncivilized. Once these groups of people were defined as uncivilized the commission of the interloper was to develop strategies to bring these people to civilization. This also meant that the history, language, religion and culture of the newly subjugated would be destroyed or at the very least discouraged from being used. As a result, the contributions of many of these peoples have been lost to history and only now are their histories being made known.

To begin a study of sports it is necessary to define what sport is. Sport is defined as a physical activity or skill carried out with a recreational purpose; for recreation, self-enjoyment, to attain excellence, for the development of a skill or for some combination of these: sport has physical activity, side by side competition, and a scoring system: the difference of purpose is what characterizes sport combined with the notion of individual or team skill or prowess.

Sport is also defined as a basic human skill developed for the sake of the people and their society as a useful way for people to increase mastery over nature and the environment. Therefore, sport is thought to be as old as the existence of man. (

Since the greatest influence on western culture has come from Western Europe when we study sport we always look to study the games of Ancient Greece and the first Olympics. In the Olympics the participants were free men, athletes, and citizens of Greece. Participation in the Olympics was not available to everyone, although records do indicate that citizens from all the Greek colonies participated.

Amongst Ancient Americans it is believed the team sports developed with the Olmecs. These games were played by teams using a rubber ball. Although no ball courts have remained from Olmec time rubber balls have been discovered. Since rubber was not known in Europe the Spaniards were fascinated with the bouncing ball. When the Spaniards first saw this bouncing ball they thought it was the work of the devil. (

Archeologists have discovered ball courts in Mesoamerica and Guatemala dating back to 1500 BC. These ball courts were decorated with art; other art forms document ball games, including ceramic figurines, vessels, stone sculptures, carved monuments, and wall murals. Courts averaged 36.5 m by 9 m (120 ft. by 30 ft. Most were shaped like a capitol letter "I" with parallel masonry walls encasing a long narrow playing alley that connected two end zones. The floor of the ball court was made of cut stone whitewashed and painted with vivid colors. Jaguars, serpents and raptors decorated the interiors of the ball courts. Some sites had life-sized stone friezes depicting past game rituals of human sacrifice. The size of the ball varied from the size of a softball to that of a beach ball.

Playing the Game

Players were formed into two teams of from one to five players per team. Players could not touch the ball with their hands. Balls could weigh from six to ten pounds, but often weighed less, and traveled at high speeds. Needless to say this made playing the game dangerous and often could result in serious injuries to players The rubber to make balls for these games was not the same type of rubber used in balls children play with today. The natural, unprocessed rubber used in these games was heavy and dense and could cause injury to the body. To prevent injury to bones, head, neck and internal organs players wore heavy padding of wood and woven materials over the areas of their bodies they could use to strike the ball, their hips, knees and forearms. Hands were protected against scraping and a form of protection was used on the head to prevent injuries from the elbows of opponents. Yokes made of heavy padding, usually wood, was usually wrapped around the middle of their bodies at the waist.

Hands were used only to put the ball into play. Players then ricocheted the ball off the wall using only their upper arms, hips and thighs.

Teams scored points when the opposing team failed to return the ball or when the ball was launched into the opponents' end zone. In some cases masonry or wood rings were tenoned into the sides of the court. A player who could launch the ball through the hole in the ring won the game and the game ended.

Meaning of the Game

The Mesoamerican ball games expressed religious beliefs but they were arenas for secular beliefs as well. The ball court became a show case to display the wealth and power of the king. The more elaborate the ball court the more power and wealth the king was seen to have. The games also provided drama, vehicles for athletic contests and an outlet for gambling. The games under also provided a stage for a human team to be pitted against the gods and the frightening power of the natural world.

The teams on the court represented duality on the court and unification through opposition. The ball and its movement in the court symbolized the movement of heavenly bodies in the sky. The court was also the symbolic access to the underworld and at the same time the channel for the sun's rebirth daily. The ball game symbolized the universal struggle between the opposing forces of day and night, and the battle of the sun against the moon and stars. The game was further seen as the universal struggle between the opposing forces of good and evil, and life and death. The cosmos and the depth of the earth existed as dual concepts of the game.

Team games also provided a substitute for war. In battle warriors worked in teams to capture an enemy to bring home just as they worked in teams in the ballgames. Ball games were held to re-enact battles and the losing warrior was sacrificed at the game as a valiant warrior. It was an honor to be chosen. His blood would be let to replenish the land. The sacrificed warrior, like the Maize god, was a metaphor for life and death. The young Maize god appeared as young green shoots of maize in spring which grew maturity with the sun and rain during the summer only to whither away and die after the harvest. This was followed by the promise of resurrection and the replenishment of the earth through bloodletting. In the Mesoamerican tradition life was seen as a person's most valuable treasure and therefore worthy of offering to the gods.

The similarities to today's sports teams are endless. The cost of ball court construction in Mesoamerica, like today, entailed a major commitment of resources from a community. Participants in Mesoamerican ball games and American sports teams both use animals and raptors as team symbols. These symbols not only identified one team from another but the identifying symbol gave the team members superhuman or supernatural powers that could defeat any opposition. The fans of a particular team then identify with the team symbol thus giving up their individual identity to identify with the team. Mesoamerican ball courts, like our stadiums today, were used for particular events, ball games with opposing teams; the rest of the time these courts remained unused. In Mesoamerica these games were often ceremonial, associated with seasonal and astronomical activities; today we have seasonal sports which bring us together at certain times of the year to share a common pastime.

To field a winning team communities had to support the training and apprenticeship of players. At times this may have proven too burdensome at task, but these sport teams also became important integrating factors in the development of communities. Communities of people have often developed teams to develop cohesion within the group, an identity, work teams, and other cultural events such as singing, dancing, festivals, and hunting which bring people together to share a common purpose. The ball games not only brought participants together as teams but also promoted human bonding and emphasized the qualities of cooperation and obedience to rules to achieve success. Just as is done today, other participants, bands, cheerleaders, songs, and cheers add to the sense of being a part of the team and to our participation at the games.

The ball games also helped keep warriors in shape and provided a place where warriors could remain in shape. In 1896 when thought was given to starting the modern Olympics Baron Pierre de Courbertin believed that the main reason for the growth in England's power in the nineteenth century was due sports education in English schools. He also was convinced that the French defeat in the Franco-German war was due to the poor physical condition of the French and the lack of sport and physical education in the French schools (Hill 1).

Conflict Resolution

As the territories under the control of various Mesoamerican people expanded the influx of new ethnic groups created tension and conflict within the existing social order. The ball game may have helped resolve some of this conflict by acting as a catharsis for an ethnically diverse community. The ball game could bring people together to confront a common enemy, in this case the opposing team as enemy, rather than each other.

Olympic Games

The Olympics were held every four years from 776 B.C. to 393 A.D. to honor Zeus, the supreme god of Greece. The games were open to free male citizens of Greece only. Women were not participants nor were they permitted to be spectators of the games. All games were performed nude.

In Greek mythology, Zeus lived at Olympia. Eventually, Olympia became a sacred place for religious pilgrimages, sports and animal sacrifice. Athletes prayed made vows and gave thanks to Zeus. Animals were sacrificed on altars to Zeus and their entrails were studied to see if they foretold victory. Priests living at Olympia carried out sacrifices at 69 altars regularly each month and performed daily offerings of libations of wine to Zeus as a part of their ritual.

The Greeks believed that education meant to educate the entire person; therefore, education could not be divided into physical and mental education. Religion encouraged this type of thinking and athletic competitions were held in holy places under the protection of the gods. Celebrants adorned altars to honor Zeus, offerings and figurines of men and animals were hung in the branches of trees. With the establishment of the games the sanctuary grew and flourished. Altars were adorned with marble and bronze statues. Victorious dedications were made to Zeus athletic and military achievements.

Modern Olympic Games

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, an aristocrat who became an intellectual, is recognized as starting what is called the modern Olympics. Coubertin had a passion for education, especially physical education. He was convinced that Thomas Arnold's methodology at the Rugby School in England had been responsible for the growth in England's power and influence in the nineteenth century, and he felt that this same concept in education should be exported to France. Coubertin set out to convince French educators to introduce physical education into the French schools. Coubertin was also convinced that physical education reached its highest point in Ancient Greece where the gymnasia of Athens had created what he called a triple unity: between young and old; different disciplines; and people of different types; the practitioner and the theoretician; the man of science and the man of letters. He also believed, as stated above, that the French lost the Franco-German war because the French people were physically unfit. And that while sports promoted physical health it was also essential for the people of the nation state to be physically healthy to win wars. Like the Ancient Mesoamericans Coubertin also believed that sports was essential for the good of the country because it brought diverse groups of people together from all social classes to share a common experience. De Coubertin's views on sports fit nicely with the political thought of the latter nineteenth century which was defined as the new age of democracy, or social equality for all.

Coubertin, like the Ancient Mesoamericans, also believed in the duality of sports (Snyder & Spreitzer 2). He believed that sports taught the joy of winning and the agony of defeat; beauty and repulsiveness; order and disorder; violence and tenderness. Through this duality, by teaching sports in school the values of the larger society would be disseminated and reinforced. These values would help regulate behavior and teach the importance of setting and attaining goals. He also believed that teaching sports in school helped develop problem solving strategies that could be applied to problems in life and regulate perceptions on life.

Baron de Coubertin's first approach to the teaching of sports in the schools was based on his belief that the values taught in sports would inculcate students with the social values, skills and knowledge they would need to ensure that the nation's existing political, religious and economic systems would prevail into perpetuity. School athletics would also emphasize marketable skills, loyalty to the nation state and unquestioning acceptance of prevailing social values. The student-athlete would also learn to play a variety of social roles and accept authority by interacting with coaches and team mates and through the various positions learned playing team sports. The acceptance of authority, de Coubertin felt, was more important than independent judgment or critical thinking if the nation state were to prevail.

Although, de Coubertin is given credit for reviving the Olympic Games others preceded him. Attempts to revive the games in England reached back to 1620. The Greeks held games in 1859, 1870, 75 and 1889. Also games were annually in Much Wenlock in County Shropshire in England beginning in 1850.

Dr. William Penny Brooks was the moving spirit of the Much Wenlock games. Originally the games acted as a form of social control to help keep people out of the alehouses and give them something else to do. Over time the interest in physical education began to grow, people began to question why was it that young men who were farm laborers had compulsory drawing in the state schools but no physical training (education). As this discussion continued, the English schools were encouraged to look at the Swiss model of education and introduce gymnastics into the schools, partly as preparation for war (Hill 1).

In 1862, the Liverpool Athletic Club held an Olympic festival. It was repeated in 1863, 1864 and 1865. By this time Brooks had founded a National Olympian Association. Its purpose was to plan and promote annual Olympic Games which would be held in major cities and towns throughout England. Each year a different city or town was to be identified to sponsor the Olympic Games. However, the cities and towns were not warm to this idea, no doubt due to the expense of planning and hosting such an event.

Dr. Brooks, although discouraged, was not defeated in his idea for reviving the Olympic Games. In 1889 he approached de Courbertin about the games in Much Wenlock. The games in 1889 would have 15 events some of those were; the long jump, seven fold foot race, quoits, spear throwing and soccer. The Wenlolck prize would go to the best athlete.

In 1859, Otto Zapas a rich Greek merchant sponsored Olympic Games in Athens. These games did not meet with the success Zapas expected. The games in 1859 were not purely athletic events; here they looked more like a fair with exhibitions of athletic events.

Sports and Athletics in the United States

As the United States became more urbanized and factory work increased there was less opportunity for work-play occasions. This lack of exercise was seen as becoming detrimental to the nation's well-being. To address this need for physical education in the schools, military drills were introduced into the New York Public Schools in 1861 and into the Boston Public Schools in 1863 to develop respiration and quicken respiration.

However, Dudley Sargent determined that military drills did not develop increased respiration nor was circulation quickened. Furthermore, he concluded that the nation and its citizens needed more than drill to be successful. Sargent felt that the love of competition provided through sports made the United States a commercial enterprising nation. It is through the competition of sport, according to Sargent, that one can measure his own weakness against others and fortify ourselves. Then find where others are weak and outstrip them, these are important factors in building a national character. (Welch )

In 1894, Baron de Coubertin established the International Congress to revive the Olympic Games. The first games were held in 1896 in Greece in the home of the Ancient Olympics in. A total of 245 athletes, all male, representing 14 nations took part, no women took part in the first Olympics. The second Olympic Games were held in Paris in 1900. Although, Baron de Coubertin was opposed to the idea of women participating he was overruled. In the 1900 Games 997 athletes, including 22 women, represented 24 nations and took part in 95 events. The first two women to compete were Mme. Brosky and Mlle. Ohnier of France in croquette. The first female champion was Charlotte Cooper for Great Britain. She won a gold medal in tennis. Although the games were scheduled around the French World's Fair and the primary attention was on the Eiffel Tower the Olympic Games were was a success. To recognize the efforts de Coubertin made to establish the Modern Olympic Games, the Congress then agreed that Olympic Games would be held every four years after that.

Athletics and games continued during World War I. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker saw to the continuation of athletic programs in college as preliminary training for potential military officers. Once again the philosophy behind sports was the creation of team unity, physical development plus the learning of athletic games provided a necessary diversion to men during their time in military camps. Along with this the YMCA promoted and developed athletics and games for the army and the navy for rest and recreation to help ease the stress of war. Physical education and athletics continued to be stressed up to World War II with the belief that "hard soldiers cannot be developed by soft methods". Athletics and sport although seen as promoting good health and fitness in youth is still seen today as essential to pre-military training.

In the twentieth century the Modern Olympics have been held every four years with three exceptions. The 1916 Olympics, to be held in Germany were cancelled due to World War I and the Olympics scheduled for Tokyo in 1940 and London in 1944 were both cancelled due to World War II.

Sports, Athletics, and War

The Olympics of 1936 were held in Berlin, Germany and are often referred to as the Nazi Olympics. The IOC had awarded Berlin the site for the games prior to Hitler's coming to power. An attempt to boycott the games in protest of Hitler's banishment of Jewish athletes from participation in sporting events in Nazi Germany failed. The movement to boycott the games received support from Great Britain, France, Sweden, the United States and the Netherlands. At the last minute the United States decided to participate in the Olympic Games. A counter-Olympics was planned by those who continued to support a boycott. Those games were to take place in Spain, but were cancelled when the Spanish Civil War broke out. TheThe Nazi government saw the Olympic Games as an opportunity to showcase its' fascist ideology to the world. In 1936 the Berlin Games were the largest games to date with over 3,963 athletes (3, 632 men and 331 women) participating in 129 events and representing 49 nations. The games were also the most technological events to date. Olympic events were televised on a closed circuit system throughout the Olympic Village and to public halls and theaters throughout the country. The most up to date radio equipment was used to bring the Aryan victories to the average German citizen at home and at work. The Germans won 89 medals in the 1936 Games but Jesse Owens, an African-American sprinter who won four gold medals, was the greatest athletic hero.

In women's events 13 year old Marjorie Gestring of the United States won a gold medal in springboard diving and would become the youngest gold medal winner in the history of the Olympics. Inge Sorenson of Denmark won a bronze medal in the 200 m breast stroke and at age 12 was the youngest ever to participate in an individual competition. Also for the United States, Elizabeth Robinson and Helen Stephenson won their second gold medals in the 4x100 relay.

1968 Olympics

"The goal of Olympism is to place every where sport at the service of the harmonious development of men, with a view to encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity" (Olympic Charter; Fundamental Principles, paragraph 3)

The International Olympic Committee, headed by Avery Brundage from the United States, selected Mexico City as the site for the XIX Olympics. The Olympic Games would be held from October 5-27, 1968. This would be the first time the Olympics would be held in a Spanish-speaking country and the event would give Mexico a place of prominence among Latin American countries. The Mexican economy had been booming for years and the Olympics would demonstrate to the rest of the world how modernized and civilized "progressive" it was.

With that goal in mind in 1963 the XIX Olympic Games were scheduled for Mexico City in 1968. But 1968 was not to be an ordinary year with people around the world looking forward to the Olympic Games. Major Political events and turmoil around the world marked every month of 1968 and would shape the events that took place in Mexico leading up to the Olympics (Appendix A).

The Mexican government spared no expense in providing excellent facilities for the athletes, retainers and journalists who would come to Mexico for the Olympic Games. This event would also become a cultural event to showcase Mexican history and culture and help diffuse old ideas that the nation was uncivilized and corrupt... Over 140 million dollars would be spent on the Olympics. But, this also included money spent on buildings that would be used later by the general population for housing and recreation. Some of this money would also be used as a capital investment in the tourist business, which was an important source of profit and foreign exchange for the Mexican economy.

But not everyone in the athletic community was pleased with the decision to hold the Games in Mexico. There was widespread concern for the medical condition of the athletes. Doctors and athletes were afraid the high altitude, over 7,000 feet above sea level would deprive athletes of oxygen, especially those athletes who had to compete over long distances. A few countries felt their athletes might die competing under such physically stressful conditions. Some countries even went so far as to build high-altitude sports centers to test the affects of altitude on athletes.

The British Olympic Association brought a proposal from the International Olympics Committee stating that a period of no less than four weeks in the last three months prior to the Olympics be spent in training at high altitudes to acclimate athletes to the high altitudes. Some countries would allow their athletes a longer time to train at high altitudes, which many believed gave those participants an unfair advantage in the games.

At home in Mexico everyone was not happy about the Olympics. Students at colleges around Mexico City protested the cuts to education which they associated with the high cost of the Olympics. Student protested that too much money was being spent on the Olympics. While the government spent millions of pesos on the construction of stadiums, hotels, housing for athletes, and a new subway to move the tourists around, students questioned the millions of pesos that were taken away from programs to alleviate widespread poverty among Mexicans.

This was the tone of the city when on the evening of July 22, 1968, two rival groups of students fought in the Ciudadela neighborhood of Mexico City. Fights between these two groups of students, one from the preparatory school who were part of the National Autonomous University (UNAM) system and the other, from the vocational students from the less prestigious National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) were not uncommon. Some fights between these groups of adolescent boys were to prove masculinity; other times the fights were caused by class tensions brought about by the different social classes each group represented. In the past these fights were seen as minor events between adolescent boys. In the months leading up to this event there had been other instances of student upheaval. Some students had stolen and destroyed city busses as a protest over fare increases and cuts to service. But, with the Olympic Games looming and the whole world watching, the government felt it needed to take aggressive action to protect both its international image and assure the word community that the games would go on. The day after the fight in the Ciudadela neighborhood, the riot police (granaderos) were sent to stop the student protests. The police reacted so violently to the students that protests were lodged. By some accounts at least one student was killed by the police, and his body never returned to his family for burial. These two events at Ciudadela, the student fight and the overt police reaction would become defined as the starting point for the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968.

In response to the granaderos' attack on the students, the IPN called for a protest. A demonstration was called for by FNET, the organization for IPN students, on July 26. FNET demanded that the government disband the granaderos or dismiss its leaders for the violence against the students on July 22. On that same date, July 26, another group was planning a demonstration. A group of UNAM students planned to celebrate the anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. Both groups received the proper authorization to demonstrate. The groups of students from FNET and UNAM mingled and stopped to listen to the speeches commemorating the Cuban Revolution. As the students mingled together they came too close to the Zocalo, the main square and the site of the Presidential Palace, an unauthorized demonstration zone. They were met there by the granaderos who attacked and brutally dispersed the students.

The students sought protection from the police in surrounding buildings and overturned buses to build barricades. After three days the police and the army moved into the area, claiming that the public was in danger, to disperse and arrest the students.

Supporters, both teachers and fellow students, of the UNAM and IPN schools started a National Strike Council and strikes spread throughout Mexico City's schools. The rector of UNAM led a demonstration of between 50- 100,000 people from the university into the city. On August 5, the rector of IPN led an even larger demonstration for missing and dead students.

The clashes between students and police continued the entire month of August. The last of four major demonstrations occurred on August 27 and totaled between 200,000 to 400,000 people. These demonstrations were held in front of the National Palace where speakers publicly denounced President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. The public denunciation of the president broke with the political tradition of never publicly criticizing the Mexican head of state.

After weeks of restraint the government called out troops to occupy the grounds of UNAM. Thousands of students and their teachers were arrested. Despite continued disturbances and street fights the government troops remained in control. Three weeks before the Olympic Games were to begin army troops were positioned outside the gates to the main Olympic stadium. As the date for the Olympics approached, on October 2 ("La Noche Triste"), an unauthorized student rally of 5-10,000 students and residents took place at Tlateloco, the Plaza of the Three Cultures. The army surrounded the demonstrators and fired indiscriminately into the crowd killing dozens of students, women and children, and wounding hundreds more. The shooting continued for hours. As many as 1500 student activists were arrested, many never seen or heard from again, as well as journalists and foreign correspondents. This was the last of the student demonstrations of 1968.

The government confiscated film from reporters showing the events of the massacre and issued a statement which said that army troops had been fired on by student demonstrators from the surrounding buildings and returned fire in self-defense. The official story released by the government was that 32 people were killed. The demonstrators have always disagreed with this number of dead released by the government and estimated that at least 300 people , possibly more, were killed by the army.

The Olympics were held without any further disturbance. Students returned to their classes and the Mexican student movement ended with little to show for it other than the deaths of several hundred students and the arrests of hundreds more.

The XIX Mexico Olympics would become games known for the number of athletic records, which still stand today, and policy records that were broken. To the people of Mexico, 1968 would have a different meaning.

The 1968 were a milestone for women. Of the 6,000 competitors close to 800 were women. The XIX games marked the first time the Olympic torch was carried by a woman. The woman was Enrirqueta Basilio, a Mexican runner in the 400 meters. The 1968 games was also the first year that women competing had to undergo a sex test to ensure their gender.

Although women began to see some equality, African Americans felt they were not being treated as fairly at home. Black African nations and the Soviet Union had threatened to boycott the games over the participation of South Africa and its policy of apartheid and thereby reduce the number of athletes participating in the games. The Civil Rights movement in the United States was in a state of disarray with the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King jr. on April 4 of that year. Along with that was the continuing question of "apartheid" and South Africa's participation in the games. Prior to the games Harry Edwards, a sociology instructor at San Jose State College, had tried to organize a boycott of all black athletes participating in the 1968 games. The idea of a boycott originated at the Black Power Conference held at Newark, New Jersey, in1967. The boycott was to emphasize the inequities faced by black athletes in America daily. By 1968, the idea of a boycott had lost favor with the athletes who felt they had trained and worked too hard to win their positions at the games. A decision was made for the participants to make a symbolic gesture such as wearing black armbands.

John Carlos and Tommie Smith, roommates and students at San Jose State College, demonstrated their discontent with the status of black Americans at home by quietly planning their own protest. Tommie Smith won the 200 m race and John Carlos received a bronze medal in the same race. As the Star Spangled banner played both men closed their eyes, bowed their heads and raised black gloved fists into the air. Smith raised his right hand to represent Black power in America, and Carlos raised his left hand to represent the unity of Black America. Later Smith explained that together they formed an arch of unity and power. The black scarf Smith wore around his neck represented black pride; their black socks with no shoes represented black poverty in racist America.

Their protest was met with boos from the spectators who felt the Olympics were no place for politics. After the demonstration both men suffered the consequences of their actions. The IOC was outraged and made the two men ineligible for any other games; they were suspended from the U.S. National team and were thrown out of the Olympic Village. When they returned home they received death threats. Finally in 1998, both men were honored on the thirtieth anniversary of their protest.

In the high jump Dick Fosbury of the U.S. introduced a new technique. He launched off his outside foot and went over the bar with his body facing upwards. With his new style he won the gold medal in the high jump.

Long Jumper, Bob Beamon of the U.S. hit everything perfectly and set a world record at 29 ft. 2.5 inches.

Conflict Resolution and the 1968 Olympics

Once again the lessons attributed to sports overshadows whether one wins or loses. The most important lesson is that there is honor in participation. The Ancient Mesoamericans, Greeks and Baron de Coubertin all believed in the duality of sports. That sport participation taught participants how to win and lose gracefully and to work hard for that which you want. They all believed that by participating in sports competition one learns what is needed to live a good life as a productive citizen.

The silent protest of John Carlos and Tommie Smith speaks to this loudly. In school we teach children the values of our society and the importance of teamwork. Both Carlos and Smith made conscious decisions that they were not going to abandon their team in a boycott. At the same time imbued with the values of American culture and political thought "that all men are created equal "and having won their respective positions at the games based on merit they quietly let one and all know that not everyone was equal in America.


This curriculum will be used to introduce students to the contributions of Mesoamericans to creation of sport teams and to explain the purpose of physical education in the school curriculum and how it helps to develop citizenship skills.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools is a Standards-based curriculum that includes but is not limited to the Pennsylvania State Content Standards. The Standards of the Pittsburgh Public schools used in this curriculum unit are Citizenship and Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. Those Standards will be found in Appendix 3.


The teacher should provide students with background information from the curriculum unit above to introduce students to the topics discussed in this unit. The length of time needed for the background information can be determined by the teacher based upon the demands of his or her curriculum.

The teacher should also provide students with additional background information on the world events of 1968. A partial list of those events will be included in Appendix # 4.

All of the activities selected for this unit are games; however, each game provides its own unique insight into the culture and history of Mesoamerican people.

Classroom Activities

Activity # 1: Appendix # 1

Bul: A Game of Chance:

The first game BUL is defined as a simple game of chance; it has also been defined as a war game. The game appears like many games played today, although these games are usually not defined as war games, with a winner take all philosophy. The winner in these games is the one with the highest score. In BUL the objective is the same winner take all philosophy as in contemporary games. The player with the most captives at the end of the game is declared the winner. The game and instructions for BUL appear in Appendix # 1. The instructions for BUL in Appendix # 1 are the same as those found on webpage for the game. The instructions have been included in Appendix # 1 as an additional resource for the teacher.

Activity # 2: Appendix # 2

The Crystal Skull Game

Classroom activity # 2 is an interactive website for the Crystal Skull Game. This game is a first person role-playing game that also teaches the history and cultures of Mesoamericans. The teacher should introduce students to the game by presenting them with some of the myths and legends of the Aztecs. That information is found on the website under the section of the game called information. Also a list of Myths and Legends is included in Appendix # 2. The instructions for the Crystal Skull Game in Appendix # 2 are the same as those found on the webpage for the game. The instructions have been included in Appendix # 2 as an additional resource for the teacher.

The additional activities created for students have been adapted from this website. Students should also be encouraged to do additional research on the list in Appendix # 2 as well as the remaining list on the information site.

Activity # 3: Appendix # 3

The Mayan Ballgame

Classroom activity # 3 is an interactive website for the Mayan Ball Game. This game with instructions will be located in Appendix # 3. This website is divided into four sections (1) Explore the Mesoamerican World; (2) Explore the Ballgame; (3) Experience the Ballgame; (4) Experience the Exhibit.

The additional activities created for students have been adapted from this website. In section # 1: Explore the Mesoamerican World, students are to identify each of the cultural groups. A list of questions has been provided. Students may work in groups and bring information back to their groups for a whole group presentation. Group presentations should be written and may be form of power point presentations or any other audio visual medium students and teachers are comfortable with, depending on the availability of resources.

Appendix # 1: Bul: A Mayan Game of Chance

(image available in print form)

Play BUL, A Mayan Game of Chance

Games of chance were quite popular in a number of Mesoamerican cultures; the Aztecs' addiction to the game of Patolli is well known. Fra Diego Duran wrote that the stakes they played for sometimes rose so high that the loser lost not only his wealth but his freedom too, selling himself into slavery to pay his debt. (One should keep in mind that Father Duran may have been prejudiced; he fiercely disapproved of Patolli because the players invoked the names of Aztec gods during the game).

Similar games were played by the classic Maya. "Game boards" have been found scratched into the stone of building floors and the bases of stelae. It isn't known if they used these games to gamble like the Aztecs, or for the simple pleasure of playing. The Mayan game of Bul is a relative of the Aztec Patolli, with which it shares many common features. In Bul, a "board" was made by placing 15 grains of corn in a row, the 14 spaces between grains being used for play. Four flat grains of corn with a black mark burned into one side served as dice. When the grains were tossed the count was based on the number that fell with the burned side up (1 burned side and 3 unburned = 1, etc.). But if all the kernels came up blank, the count was 5.

Bul can be played with any even number of participants. The example used here is the simplest arrangement, with only 2 players. Each player has 5 game pieces; these could be any readily available item: seeds, sticks, bits of cloth, etc. I've represented the pieces as warriors because the language the Maya used while playing Bul seems to have been a metaphor for warfare: game pieces were described as being taken captive or killed.

Opposing players each start with a single game piece at opposite ends of the board; each gets two throws of the corn in a row, advancing his marker the number of spaces indicated after each throw. When a game piece reaches the opposite end of the board, it is re-entered at the end it where it started, as if the board were circular.

The real point was to land on a space already occupied by your opponent. You would then take the other game piece "captive" and change direction to drag it back to your "home" end of the board. Once this was done, you could re-enter your piece into play, while the captive marker was "dead". Play continued in this way until all of one side's pieces were dead.

With two players, as soon as one captured the other's marker, there was no way to prevent it from being carried off the board. With multiple players divided into two teams, the situation was different. While partners could not take each other captive, they could capture an opponent's piece before it was brought a captive to the end of the board by landing in the space it occupied, dragging both the captured piece and the opponent's marker towards the other end of the board, where the partner's marker was freed to be put back into play, while the opponent's piece was dead. If enough people were involved in the game, it could take up to three hours for all of one side's pieces to be killed.




Appendix # 2

1. The Crystal Skull Game
2. Partial List of Myths and Legends of the Aztecs

Welcome to the Crystal Skull

The Crystal Skull is an interactive first-person role playing game. Because this game is web-based, your game data (such as the items in your inventory, the skills you have obtained and the places you may have already been) will be lost if you remain inactive for more than 30 minutes. For this reason, we suggest that you save your game whenever you may be away from your computer. When you return to the game, simply load your saved game. Both the 'Save Game' and 'Load Game' buttons are in the setup menus (the icon looks like a sliding bar).

The sliding-bar icon also takes you to a read-out of your score. You start with 100 points. Ten points are deducted every time you die. Ten points are added every time you successfully answer a quiz question, and ten are deducted if you answer wrong. The best possible score is 225.

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The Crystal Skull Game (no plug-in required)

The Crystal Skull Movie (requires Quicktime 3)

The following partial list of Aztec Myths and Legends is from the website:

1. Qmeteotl, the creative force, god of fire and time
2. Tezcatlipoca, son of Qmeteotl, direction is north, color is black, the biggest and baddest son.
3. Quetzalcoatl, son of Qmeteotl, direction of the setting sun, color is white
4. Aztlan, ancestral home where the Aztecs originated
5. Coatlicue, A Goddess, mother of Huitzilopochtli
6. Huitzilopochtli, led the Aztecs on their migration
7. Malinalxoch, sister of Huitzilopochtli, and a sorceress
8. Chapultepec, first settlement of the Aztec after their migration
9. Copil, sorcerer son of Malinallxoch
10. Tenochitlan, an island in a lagoon where the Aztec settled
11. Motecuhzoma I, tried to find the ancestral home, Aztlan, of the Aztec
12. Teotihuacan, Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon
13. Quetzalcoatl, a Tula King, disgraced himself and went into exile. He ascended to heaven and became the morning star Venus. He was to return in the year One Reed, the year Cortez came to Central America.
14. Olmecs, preceded the Maya, called the "Mother Culture" of Mesoamerican culture
15. Chichen Itza, the most powerful and influential Maya City in the 10th century AD
16. Palenque, the Jewel City of the Classic Maya period

Appendix # 3: The Maya Ballgame

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The following questions are adapted from the Ballgame website:

Explore the Mesoamerican World

  • A. Students are to use the map in the Explore the Mesoamerican World on the ballgame website for the following:
  • 1. Identify each cultural group on the map.
  • 2. Identify where this group is located on the map.
  • 3. When did this Cultural Group exist?
  • 4. What were the major accomplishments of this group?
  • 5. Describe the Lifestyle.
  • 6. Describe the art style
  • 7. Materials used
  • 8. Subject Matter
  • 9. Ballgame
  • 10. Other Sites (answer the same questions for other sites listed with the major cultural groups)
  • B. Identify each period
  • I. Formative Period
  • 1. When
  • 2. Where
  • 3. Cultures
  • 4. Major Accomplishments
  • 5. Ballgame Connections
    II Classic Period
  • 1. When
  • 2. Where
  • 3. Cultures
  • 4. Major Accomplishments
  • 5. Ball Game Connections
  • III. Post Classic
  • 1. When
  • 2. Where
  • 3. Cultures
  • 4. Major Accomplishments
  • 5. Ball Game Connections
  • IV. Spanish Conquest
  • 1. Who
  • 2. Where
  • 3. Time Period
  • 4. Major Influences
  • 5. Lifestyle
  • V. World History
  • 1. When
  • 2. Exploration
  • 3. Conquest
  • 4. Colonization
  • 5. Independence

Students are to use the Explore the BallGame section of the ball game website to complete the following activities.

  • I. Using the Ball Page:
    A. Students should: complete all activities on the Ball page to gain a better understanding of the use and development of rubber by Mesoamerican people.
  • II. Using the "Explore the BallGame" Page :
  • A. Students should use the Uniform page to complete the following for a better understanding of the Mesoamerican ballgame.
  • 1. See how the ball players wore their uniforms.
  • 2. Identify and state the purpose of all parts of the uniform worn by the ball players.
  • 3. View the "parade of players" for a display of artifacts from the ballgames.
  • 4. View team "Mascots" and answer the following questions:
  • a.) What is the purpose of ball court markers?
  • b.) What is the name of the Aztec feathered serpent?
  • c.) What is an hacha?
  • d.) What are harpy eagles? Why are they shown decorating ballcourts?
  • e.) What does the name of the Hero Twin, Xbalanque, mean?
  • f..) Where are Coyote Palmas commonly found?
  • g.) What was the coyote associated with?
  • h.) What was the maguey plant used for?
  • i.) What is copal?
  • III. Using the "Court" page:
  • A. Students should use the "Court" page to gain a better understanding of the cultural traditions associated with the ballgame. Students should visit all activities on this page and prepare a discussion on similarities with these traditions to contemporary sports traditions.
  • a.) Walk around a Court
  • b.) Listen to an Ancient Aztec Song
  • c.) View and Identify the Artwork
  • d.) Learn from this Ancient Vessel
  • IV. Students should use the "Game" page: to gain a better understanding of the development of sports through history.
  • a.) To answer the question of women in sports, students should view "Did Women Play"?
  • b.) To understand the similarities between Mesoamerican sports and modern day sports, students should view "How We Play the Game".
  • c.) To understand the historical development of sports and develop a time line depicting that development, students should view "The First Dream Team".
  • d.) To understand story of "Sport and Spirituality" students should view "Winner Take All". This section of the site explores the history of the ball game through both artwork and a diagram explaining the story of creation according to the Popul Vul.

Annotated Bibliography

Library of Congress. The Olympic Games, 1980: Moscow and Lake Placid. : MacMillan Pub. Co, A history of the Olympic Games with special emphasis on the 1980 Olympics

Espy, Richard. The Politics of the Olympic Games. : Univ. of Calif. Press, 1979. Sport as a tool of diplomacy, by sending athletes abroad countries establish a basis for diplomatic relations and the adverse affects of canceling international events.

Hill, Christopher. Olympic Politics Athens to Atlanta 1896-1966. 2nd. ed.: Manchester Univ. Press, History of the Olympic Games including contributions by Dr. Brookes, Otto Zapas and Baron de Coubertin

Goodhart, M.P., Philip, and Christopher Chataway. War Without Weapons. : W.H. Allen & cos, 1968. Observations of Konrad Lorenz on contemporary society's lack of insufficient discharge of aggressive behavior and the increase in violence in society

Snyder, Eldon , and Elmer Spreitzer. Social Aspects of Sports. : Prentice Hall, Sports in school is necessary to transmit the values of the larger society.

Welch, Paula D. History of American Physical Education and Sport. 3rd. ed. Gainesville: Charles C. Thompson, 2004. The importance of sports to help prepare a physically fit youth for war.

Swaddling, Judith . The Ancient Olympic Games. Austin: Univ. Texas, 1980. Background information on the Olympic Games at Athens

Whittington, Michael. The Sport of Life and Death: The Mesoamerican Ballgame. New York: London; Thames: , 2001.

Bunch III, Lonnie G., and Louie Robinson. The Black Olympians, 1904-1984: July 22, 1984-January 15, 1985 (essay.... Los Angeles: Afro-American Museum, 1984.

Web Sites

Giulianotti, Richard. "S & D and Conflict Resolution." Sport Development and Conflict Resolution. 1997. Sport and International Development Platform.>.

"NCAS." National Consortium for Academics and Sports.>.

"All the Games, Athletes, Sports since 1896." 2005. Official Website of the Olympic Movement.>.

Seagrave, Jeffrey. "Center for History in New Media." Hitler's Ambitious Plans for the 1936 Olympics. 08 2004. George Mason University Ph.D in History: History News Network.>.

"Some early history about women and the Olympics." Potted History.>.

Doyle, Kate. "Forgetting Is Not Justice" Mexico Bares Its Secret Past ." WORLD POLICY JOURNAL REPORTAGE: Volume XX, No 2, Summer 2003 . 06 Oct 2003.>.

Ecker, Ronald . "The Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico." 2005.>.

Mabry, Donald . "The 1968 Mexican Student Movement." Historical Text Archive. 2003.

"Mexico Connect." October 2 Is Not Forgotten -Tlatelolco: Upsurge and Massacre in Mexico, 1968 Part 1: The Youth Revolt. 1998.>.

"Mexico Connect." October 2 Is Not Forgotten -Tlatelolco: Part 2: Blood at Tlatelolco. 1998.>.

"Mexico Connect." October 2 Is Not Forgotten -Tlatelolco: Upsurge and Massacre in Mexico, 1968 Part 3: Echoes in the 90s. 1998. 03 Aug. 2005>.

Liebman, Arthur. "Student Activism in Mexico." 1971. JSTOR.>.

Bilello, Suzanne. The Massacre in Mexico Twenty Years Later. 1988. APF Reporter Vol. 11 # 3 Index.>.

Doyle, Kate. TLATELOLCO MASSACRE:. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Books .>.

An Exploration of Mesoamerican Cultures.>.

"The Sport of Life and Death the Mesoamerican ballgame." 2002.

"Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies inc.." Mesoamerica.>.

"Play Bul a Mayan Game of Chance." 1999.>.

Appendix # 4: Teacher Resource

A partial list of events of National and International Interest for 1968

January 23. On January 23, 1968 North Korean patrol boats captured the USS Pueblo, a U.S. intelligence gathering vessel and its 83 crew men for violating the country's twelve mile territorial waters limit.

On January 31, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive at Nha Trang. Seventy thousand North Vietnamese took the battle from the jungle to the cities. The offensive carried on for weeks and became a major turning point for the American attitude toward the war.

February 2, 1968, Richard Nixon announced his presidential candidacy.

February 18, 1968, the State Department announced the highest U.S. casualty toll of the Vietnam War. The previous week 543 Americans were killed in action and 2,547 were wounded.

February 27, 1968, Walter Cronkite reports to the nation about his recent trip to Vietnam. Cronkite's report is highly critical of U.S. officials and directly contradicts the official statements on the progress of the war.

March 16, 1968, Robert Kennedy, former Attorney General and brother to President John F. Kennedy, announced that he would run for the presidency of the United States.

March 31, 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson announces that he will not seek re-election to the office of the president.

April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King jr. is shot and killed at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. His death sets off riots across the country.

April 23, 1968, students at Columbia University in New York occupy five buildings in protest of the university's participation in the Institute for Defense Analysis. Seven days later police, by the request of the university, storm the buildings sand violently remove the students and their supporters.

May 6, 1968, "Bloody Monday" marks one of the most violent days of the Parisian student revolt. Five thousand students march through the Latin Quarter. Rioters set up barricades and the police attack with gas grenades.

May 13, 1968, Actions taken by the students at the Sorbonne inspires sympathetic strikes across the country and as many a nine million workers strike

June 4/5, 1968, Robert Kennedy is shot by Sirhan Sirhan as he leaves the stage after addressing a large crowd of supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in San Francisco. He dies the next morning June 6, 1968.

July 17, 1968, Saddam Hussein becomes the Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Council in Iraq after a coup d'etat.

July 22, 1968, Two rival groups of male adolescent students fought each other in the Ciudadela neighborhood Mexico City. The following day the city government responded by sending policemen to arrest the perpetrators. The students were attacked so ferociously that protests were lodged.

August 20, 21, 1968, Prague Spring, the period of Czechoslovak liberalization comes to an end when 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks.

September 6, 1968, Swaziland becomes independent

October 2, 1968, A student demonstration ends in a massacre at La Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, Mexico.

October 12, 1968 Ten days after the Tlatelolco massacre the XIX Olympic Games begin in Mexico City, Mexico.

November 5, 1968, Richard M. Nixon was elected president of the United States defeating Vice President Huber H. Humphrey.

December 24, 1968 U.S. space craft Apollo 8 enters orbit around the moon.

Appendix # 5: Standards

The following Citizenship Standards will be used in this curriculum unit. The numbers of the Standards reflects their number within the Citizenship Standards.

Citizenship Standards

  1. All students demonstrate an understanding of major event, cultures, groups and individuals in the historical development of Pennsylvania, the United States and other nations, and describe patterns of historical development.
  1. All students describe the development and operations of economic, political legal and governmental systems in the United States, assess their relationships to those systems, and compare them to those in other nations.
  2. All students examine and evaluate problems facing citizens in their communities, state, nation, and world by incorporating concepts and methods of inquiry of the various social sciences.
  3. All students develop and defend a position on current issues, confronting the United States and other nations, conducting research, analyzing alternatives, organizing evidence and arguments and making oral presentations.
  1. All students demonstrate their skills of communicating, negotiating and cooperating with others.
  2. All students demonstrate that they can work effectively with others.
  3. All students demonstrate an understanding of the history and nature of prejudice and relate their knowledge to current issues facing communities, the United States and other nations.
  1. All students demonstrate the ability to resolve conflicts in peaceful ways, including but not limited to peer mediation, anger management, interpersonal skills and problem-solving.

Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening Standards

  1. All students use effective research and information management skills, including locating primary and secondary sources of information with traditional and emerging library technologies.
  2. All students read and use a variety of methods to make sense of various kinds of complex texts.
  3. All students respond orally and in writing to information and ideas gained by reading narrative and informational texts and use the information and ideas to make decisions and solve problems.
  4. All students write for a variety of purposes, including to narrate, inform, and persuade, in all subject areas.
  5. All students analyze and make critical judgments about all forms of communication, separating fact from opinion, recognizing propaganda, stereotypes, and statements of bias, recognizing inconsistencies and judging the validity of evidence.
  6. All students exchange information orally, including understanding and giving spoken instructions, asking and answering questions appropriately, and promoting effective group communications.
  7. All students listen to and understand complex oral messages and identify their purpose, structure and use.
  8. All students compose and make oral presentations for each academic area of study that are designed to persuade, inform or describe.

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