Former Olympian will discuss global diversity issues

By Terrell Starr

When Billy Mills entered the 1964 Summer Olympic Games as a 10,000-meter runner, hardly anyone expected him to advance past the preliminary heats; let alone win it all. But during the last 100 meters of the final heat, he sprinted by the favored runners and on to the finish line, winning the gold medal for the red, white and blue.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m., Mills will reflect back on that moment during his lecture on the third floor of the Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St. Afterward, he will speak to the Student Athlete Advisory Commission at 9 p.m.

His talk will open with a video presentation of the final stretch that cemented his place in sports history.

Sports, he said, not only left him with a sense of athletic achievement, it taught him moral lessons that continue to influence his life to this very day.

“I took the true sense of global unity, through the dignity, through the character, through beauty of global diversity,” Mills said. “And unity through diversity, not only the theme of the Olympic Games, but far more important: the future of humankind.”

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    Mills plans to weave his experience as an Olympic athlete into his talk and discuss how that experience has shaped his worldview.

    A member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, Mills is the Native American House’s latest guest speaker to visit the University through its lecture series. Robert Warrior, director of the Native American House, said Mills’ experience as an accomplished distance runner and his post-Olympic career make him a model athlete for the University community to admire.

    “Athletes get a bad rap for not being as intelligent as they are,” Warrior said. “And I think there are a lot of thoughtful athletes out there — students who really give their own scholarly pursuits priority and take it very seriously. And I think Billy Mills is somebody like that.”

    Tom Michael, associate athletic director in the division for collegiate athletics, said he would like Mills to discuss how he used sports to better improve his life.

    “What I hope is that he’s able to talk about the difficulties that he had growing up,” Micheal said. “He overcame many obstacles and used athletics as a vehicle to obviously have an enormous amount of success.”

    The issue of perceptions, which Mills said is the greatest challenge facing the world today, will be another topic discussed. He will share his view on how individuals, organizations and countries can empower themselves through diversity.

    The former Olympian will also discuss how stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans can counter a more unified and diverse world. Mills, an opponent of the University’s former symbol, said he doesn’t feel the portrayers were intentionally trying to be disrespectful toward Native people.

    On the other hand, he added that there are reasons why many American Indians oppose such portrayals of their culture.

    “After years of suppression and having treaties violated, having 5 to 20 percent of the cases before the Supreme Court year after year after year pertain to the violation of tribal sovereignty, we don’t accept the sports team honoring us,” Mills said.

    “If people knew the story (American Indians) still struggle with today, they would be embarrassed to have a Chief.”

    However, Mills said many people are unaware of these issues.

    “And that they don’t know, is the issue we want to address,” he added.

    Currently, Mills is national spokesman for Running Strong for American Indian Youth, an organization committed to addressing the needs of American Indians.