Twin Cities-based General Mills is honoring an Olympic champion who remains an enduring symbol of the 1960s protest movement by putting his image on Wheaties boxes.
Tommie Smith, who won gold in the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Games, is being portrayed on one side of the cereal box with fist raised and on the other side in full sprint.
"As a world champion, I always wanted to be on a Wheaties box," the 76-year-old Smith said in a statement released by the retail food giant. "To now be recognized by Wheaties and selected to grace the cover of their box, in the class with other great champion athletes, is an honor."
Sales from the box will go to the NAACP, the nation's longtime defender of civil rights for Black Americans. Advance sales began Friday online for shipment in April. There is no plan to sell the boxes in stores, said General Mills spokesman Simon Landon.
"While Tommie was a world champion runner, his work as one of the original activist athletes laid the foundation for champions to use their platform and stand for something extraordinary," Wheaties executive Taylor Gessell said in a statement released by General Mills.
After winning the 200-meter final in Mexico City, Smith made the Black Power salute upon receiving his gold medal, while Team USA teammate John Carlos did the same from the bronze medal spot on the awards podium.
The gesture cost both men dearly. There were death threats and lost financial opportunities for years.
Smith explained in a 2008 interview with Smithsonian magazine, "We had to be seen because we couldn't be heard."
Under the banner of "Breakfast of Champions," Wheaties has been honoring athletes with their images on boxes since 1934, starting with New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482