In the elevation of Mexico City, nearly 7,300 feet above sea level, Tommie Smith’s fist elevated beyond the comfort level of American society.

It was October 1968, six months removed from the race riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and two months removed from police clashes outside the Democratic National Convention with protesters opposed to the Vietnam War and overall social injustice. To that point, athletes mostly shied from making political statements. Then came the Olympics in Mexico City.

After winning gold in the 200 meters, Smith took the medal stand shoeless, wearing black socks to represent black poverty. Bronze medalist John Carlos, also from the United States, joined Smith in going shoeless. Then America's national anthem began, and all cultural hell broke loose. Smith and Carlos both lowered their heads and raised black-gloved fists. In addition, Smith, Carlos and silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia each wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges; Norman did so as a way of supporting the Americans.

Boos rained upon the three athletes as they left the podium. The photo of the ceremony remains among the most iconic in Olympics history.

Approaching 50 years since Smith shocked America — internationally, the protest was viewed as a less-egregious act — the former sprinter will participate in a panel discussion Thursday at the Ohio State Sports and Society Initiative at the Blackwell Ballroom on campus.

Smith will be joined by Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who also played for Ohio State, former Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and moderator Vince Doria, former director of news at ESPN. The panel discussion, held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. and free to the public, centers on the role of athletes' activism in social change.

Smith, Abdul-Rauf and Jenkins are linked by their actions during the playing of the national anthem. In 1996, Abdul-Rauf, who was born Chris Jackson and played collegiately at LSU, refused to stand for the anthem before two games. Last season, Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem as a way to bring attention to the mistreatment of blacks and as a show of support for San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had refused to stand for the anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality.

Smith, 72, supports such activism, saying last week he is proud of athletes who pursue truth through peaceful protest.

“These are young guys with proactive attitudes,” he said. “They are blessed to have this platform, a platform many others may not have, and they’re doing a great job trying to bring some benefit from it.

“It’s not them throwing a ball and hoping they hit somebody, but holding the ball and hoping someone takes it from them.”

Smith, who lives near Stone Mountain, Georgia, said he chose to raise his fist — calling it more of a human-rights salute than a black-power salute — because black athletes were limited in their ability to be heard.

“When you don’t have a road to run on, you have to run through some grass,” he said. “I ran with authority to help those who had no field to run through. I like that type of moving forward, because it gives the feeling that something can be redeemed.”

Smith believes in the power of positive sacrifice, but he acknowledges the difficulty. One example: after Mexico City, pre-Olympic promises of commercial gain came up empty.

“I was dropped from everything,” he said, adding that his career would have taken a different route if not for Bill Walsh and Paul Brown, who drafted him as a Cincinnati Bengals receiver in 1968. He was with the Bengals for three seasons, earning enough to further his education as a sociology professor.

“I just want young folks to know there is redemption,” he said.