Olympic Sprinter Lee Evans, 63, Has a Brain Tumor and No Health Insurance (w/Update)
Two-time Olympic champion Lee Evans was released from Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley two days after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor in his brain. He plans to remain in the area for a month to recover before returning home with his wife to Nigeria, sister Rosemary Evans said Thursday.
I’m sure that Evans has all of our best wishes and prayers for his continued recovery to pursue his dream. And a few contributions could help, too. See below for the PayPal link.
Lee Evans needs our help. The Olympic Gold Medalist and political activist, who exploded all records in the 400 meters at the 1968 Olympics, has been hospitalized with an aggressive brain tumor. The prognosis for the 63-year-old Evans is not good. As his fellow 1968 Olympic activist John Carlos said in an e-mail, “All of our teammates want to go out and say some prayers. All there is left to do is pray.”
But the situation is made far worse by the fact that Lee Evans, after four decades teaching and coaching at schools ranging from the University of South Alabama to Nigeria, doesn’t have health insurance. This has meant, according to Lee’s sister, Rosemary, that he has been terribly mistreated during his hospitalization. Rosemary said to me, “I heard his doctor in the hall and I heard him say he wished [Lee] had been transferred somewhere else because he didn’t have insurance…. Lee is in intense pain. Not even morphine is helping. He hasn’t eaten in several days, yet there was no IV in his arm when I first went into his room. He’s lying in his filth and nothing is happening. If family members aren’t vigilant… If we aren’t vigilant, I don’t know what would happen.”
If Lee Evans hadn’t been Lee Evans, and his family had not been there, I would not be surprised if the hospital would have dumped him out on a skid-row street to die, as Michael Moore’s Sicko demonstrated happened with a woman patient in L.A. who had no health insurance.
Lee Evans came from Overfelt High School in East San Jose, California. Overfelt is where I finally graduated from high school, the third and last high school I attended in four years. (And it was not because I was a troublemaker at school, either.) At the time, returning to California from a conservative parochial junior high school in New Orleans, I was afraid of matriculating at Overfelt, which opened its doors in 1962, because I found that it had a reputation within the school district, even at other public middle and high schools. When I began my junior year at Overfelt, most of what had happened had faded into history, as students graduated, went to college, moved away, or dropped out and/or went to work.
The Seventies simmered but it was fairly quiet. In comparison, the mid-to-late Sixties saw Overfelt on fire just like at San Jose State, where Evans joined Tommie Smith and John Carlos as Olympics-bound track stars. Black kids wore black vinyl jackets in imitation of the Panthers in Oakland. Black girls got rid of the hot comb and grew out their hair into large Afros. Some black students and their parents were calling for recognition of a black students’ union as a club on campus and for the insertion of a black history and culture curriculum. Overfelt became a football and track power as more blacks and Latinos joined the JV and senior varsity ranks and produced. (NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett also came from Overfelt, but transferred in his junior year to James Lick High School.) Unfortunately, blacks also fought with whites and with Latinos in mini-riots on campus–which is really what scared me–and were distrustful of the police in the East Side community.
Of the latter, the distrust has not changed at Overfelt, so I’ve heard, particularly with the rise of gangs. My youngest brother, who graduated in 1986, once called the high school “an armed camp.”
So brother Spartans and “Speed City” sprinters Evans, Smith and Carlos, were admired as older brothers and neighborhood heroes for representing Overfelt, East San Jose, San Jose State and black people to the world. Sport was still considered a way into educational opportunities and eventual economic betterment, but it also gave some a sociopolitical platform with which to talk about what was really happening in their communities.
As Zirin relates:
Lee Evans, in addition to his 1968 Olympic gold medals in the 400 and 1,600-meter relays, is a central part of athletic and American history. A founding member of OPHR, the Olympic Project for Human Rights, Lee Evans helped turned the sports world on its head by attempting to organize a boycott by African-American athletes of the ’68 Olympics to protest racism and oppression both at home and abroad. They wanted South Africa and Rhodesia disinvited from the games. They wanted the Hitler-sympathizer Avery Brundage removed as head of the International Olympic Committee. They wanted Muhammad Ali’s title, stripped for his opposition to the war in Vietnam, restored. They wanted more African-American coaches hired. They pledged to boycott, protest and raise hell if their demands were not met.
(An aside: the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics was also noted for the sizable participation of African athletes, especially those coming from high-altitude countries like Ethiopia and Kenya. I’m sure that so many Africans did not fail to impress the black American competitors. Yet, a number of American favorites found themselves defeated by the thin air as well as by their athletic rivals. Remember Kip Keino?)
Evans (along with others on his relay team) wore a black beret in solidarity with the Black Panther Party when he received his Olympic gold medals for the 400 meter, the 4 x 400 (or 1600 meter) relay, but he did not wear his black gloves or black socks or raise his fist in the air. Coming after the sensation Smith and Carlos caused, he was not thrown out of the Olympics for life by IOC chair Avery Brundage. Did he and his fellows back down a little when Smith and Carlos were thus sanctioned? Who knows?
Some still mistake him for one of the men, Tommie Smith or John Carlos, who raised their black gloved fists as the American national anthem was played. However, his politicization was just as complete and just as serious as theirs.
In reading several articles about Evans and his condition, dating from December 22-24, some winger keyboard commando types responding on Zirin’s Nation blog have carped that since Evans was gallivanting all over Africa for over 20 years, and not contributing at all to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, then he deserved not having health insurance. If the shoe was on the other foot, I know for sure that they wouldn’t be talking like that. Even if he had been an expatriate for a couple of decades, he, like many other Americans cannot rely on having health insurance, particularly if they have lost their job or had their benefits pared away.
Last time I heard, Lee Evans had not relinquished his American citizenship, although he found plenty to criticize about America some forty-three years after the Summer Olympics. He had taken teaching and coaching posts in the United States until 2008, but these sporadic appointments may not have provided enough contributions into these social programs. While I am sure that Evans was taxed as an expatriate, it wasn’t like his employers took out SSI unless he worked for an American company or two.
And health care in certain African countries is like playing with dice compared to European countries. A lot of maladies go undetected or undiscovered or undertreated until it may be too late.
Like Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt, another activist who died last year in Africa, he wanted to contribute something meaningful to his ancestral home before he died.
Evans, an Overfelt High alum, has been trying to raise capital to build a school in Liberia, the subject of a story last year in the Mercury News. The sprinter-turned-track coach said at the time he had purchased 13 acres outside of the Liberian capital of Monrovia to build a school.
Evans wanted to sell his Olympic gold medals in the 400 meters and the 1,600 relay in Mexico City to raise $250,000 for a school. He wants to dedicate the facility to his wife, Princess, a former Liberian refugee who grew up without formal education.
“I don’t need the medals,” he said. “I need money to build the school.”
Evans recently decided to start a commercial farm as a way to pay for the school. Last week, he went to Kentucky to visit ’68 Olympian Tom Lough — a modern pentathlete — who introduced him to local farmers.
Evans began working for the United Nations in Africa after resigning as track and cross-country coach at the University of South Alabama in 2008. He is semiretired but continues to coach kids in southern Nigeria.
The struggle may have been too much for him even at 63; Evans was visiting his sister in
San Jose Los Banos when the tumor was found. It is not clear whether he was stricken, or he went to take a more inclusive physical examination before returning to Liberia.
I don’t remember who it was, but someone said health care and other benefits should be provided for those who give their whole lives to the communities they served and thus to the world. Activists do not make a lot of money; they barely make enough for themselves or for their families if they are married and have children. (Martin King’s sacrifice is a case in point.) In other words, they are unable to store or count their wealth. And yet these people feel a calling towards their own people or have an affinity for other groups. When they fall ill, they and/or their families are burdened, rather than looking forward to them becoming well and whole with quality health care. With health care, they will be able to assist others once more, or have more time to transmit what they have learned to others so that their ideal of service does not pass away with them.
That’s in a happy medium, but not in this country. At least, not yet. When people like these stop, often their work stops, too.
Nothing else has been written regarding Evans since Zirin’s post on December 24. He was scheduled to have an operation, but it was cancelled, supposedly to ascertain what kind of tumor resided in his brain and how to proceed from there. Unfortunately, it just may be that the surgeons could not operate without an infusion of cash. That’s why the PayPal link is above.
It doesn’t matter if it is $1.00, $5.00 or $500.00. If you have it, please give to a Sixties icon.