David Verburg raised his gloved-fist to protest racial injustice in the U.S.
At Saturday afternoon's 111th Millrose Games, a political demonstration came and went without much notice in the men's 400 meter dash. U.S. Olympian David Verburg raised a gloved fist while being introduced to the crowd at the New Balance Track and Field Center in Upper Manhattan.
Standing at the 50-meter mark, I noticed the glove and pointed it out to a friend. Someone made a joke about whether the he was trying to pull a Tom Brady, who wore a glove in the lead up to the Super Bowl to cover up stitches on his right hand. I also heard a Michael Jackson reference. What we didn't realize was that Verburg, a gold medalist in the 4x400-meter relay at the 2016 Olympics, was protesting racial injustice, spurred by a racist incident that occurred the previous weekend.
"It all happened so quickly that I think to many people the demonstration of what I was doing didn't register," Verburg told SI.com on Monday.
On Monday morning, he tweeted a photo of his starting line pose with the caption: "I raise my fist,Because in 2018 we are still fighting for an equal playing field in this land of dreams. I raise my fist Because my little brother went into the movies, Only to come out to see the word “Nigger” carved into his windshield.Others raise theirs,yet remain unseen."
I raise my fist,Because in 2018 we are still fighting for an equal playing field in this land of dreams. I raise my fist Because my little brother went into the movies, Only to come out to see the word “Nigger” carved into his windshield.Others raise theirs,yet remain unseen. pic.twitter.com/8C5yrPwCog— David Verburg,OLY (@AdiVerb) February 5, 2018
Verburg told SI.com the incident referenced in his tweet took place one week before the Millrose Games, on Saturday, Jan. 30, in Harrisonburg, Va. He said the n-word was carved into his brother's windshield backwards so that the driver of the car would be able to clearly read it from the inside. Joseph Verburg, 23, noticed it while leaving the a movie theater and decided to call his brother David.
Verburg tweeted a video of the vandalism.
"He's just a young man living on his own and that's just another bill that he's got to pay for because someone doesn't like how you look," David Verburg said. "That's not right. He was kind of scared because if someone is going to go to the extremes to do that then you think 'Could they cause me harm?' That's not an uncommon fear among young African-American men. I told him that I would be just as scared if I saw that when I was leaving the movies or anywhere. Who is watching me and has enough hate to do that?"
Verburg says that his brother reported it to authorities and asked to check for any surveillance footage of the vandalism, but nothing was caught on camera.
A few days later, Verburg decided that he would wear a glove on his hand during the race as a nod to U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were sent home from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City after raising their fists for a Black Power salute on the podium during the 200 meters medal ceremony. Verburg raised his fist during the race introductions but says it was not shown during the NBC broadcast of the meet.
"I decided to do this in the middle of the week because it was kind of just bugging me," Verburg told SI.com. "I'm always wondering why there are people much bigger than me not using their pedestal to say something or do something. Bring attention to these issues that a lot of us are dealing with. I think a lot of the same things Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood for and fought for are still going on today. Everything going on now nationally and the tension does make it uneasy sometimes to be in some areas and be a black person at this time. It's a little scary."
Several track and field athletes have voiced support for Colin Kaepernick and other athletes protesting racial injustice during the national anthem, but the sport hasn't seen any protests that made waves nationally, especially in a non-Olympic year for track and field.
Verburg also says he knelt during the national anthem, which was played after his race.
"I'm not saying I have the answer to fix things or the master plan for equality for all but we have to start somewhere," Verburg says. "We have to ask ourselves if things are not OK, why are they not OK and how can we make it better. I was just trying to be a spark. It hasn't ignited much but if everyone does their own little part then maybe we can start something."
Verburg plans to continue raising a gloved fist at future races including the 400 meters at the upcoming U.S. Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M.