Professor Harry Edwards
Professor Harry Edwards at UCLA
He is the foremost authority on the Black athlete – then and now
By Xavier Higgs
Sentinel Contributing Writer
Renowned sociologist and sports consultant, Dr. Harry Edwards, 68, continues to be a rebel with a cause. Dr. Edwards was the keynote speaker at UCLA’s Bunche Center’s 21st Thurgood Marshall Lecture on Law and Human Rights. His accomplishments and influence have transformed professional sports, as we know it today.
The scholar activist, best known for advocating a Black athlete boycott of the 1968 Olympics, continues to be quite vocal about current social issues. “Today, more than ever, we must understand our recent past,” says Dr. Edwards. “If we are to have an informed dialogue and strategy concerning where we are as a society and where we might be headed as a nation.”
Dr. Edwards is unapologetic about his views on race and the social impact it has on American society. Moreover, he has strong opinions regarding the misdirection of society’s views on race relations in this country. He believes the circumstances this country faces today are greater than those faced during the height of the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. Throughout the event, he managed to touch upon many issues plaguing race relations in this country.
By his own reckoning, black men are not going anywhere without black women as their equal. Those kinds of analogies have become a hallmark of his struggle to enlighten the uninformed about the social injustices. He noted that the only woman allowed to make a presentation during the march on Washington was Mahalia Jackson, who sang a hymn. The late Dorothy Height, President of the Council of Negro Women, was turned down when she asked to address the crowd.
Furthermore he drew a big applause making mention of Arizona’s anti-immigration law. Dr. Edwards said, “This law does not pass the sniff test. We need to stop talking about illegal aliens as if the people who attend our schools, water our fields, clean our hotels, and work in our hospitals, are somehow from another planet.” He adds this hatred has left the door open for other such draconian laws.
The Arizona law gives local police officers broad power to detain people they suspect are in the country illegally and check their legal status.
According to Dr. Darnell Hunt, Director, Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, Dr. Edwards was honored because, “He is the leading voice on the plight of the Black student-athlete and the connections between sports, education, and black liberation.”
In a recent interview, Dr. Edwards acknowledged a correlation between the civil rights movement and the evolution and dominance of the black athlete. He adds that on every college campus that integrated, one of the biggest impacts was the Black athlete. Black athletes have been seminal to social change to this society.
But serious differences exist, as witnessed with a recent national controversy generated when Yahoo Sports reported, Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland asked Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute.
“The commissioner needs to step in and bring people in who know how to interview people,” says Dr. Edwards. “It is unfair to humiliate these young men then turnaround and ask them to respect the shield, the NFL brand.” But there is a more critical concern for the Black athlete. The black athlete is declining in numbers as a result of the deterioration of the sports infrastructure in the Black community.
“The Black athlete will become less and less a commodity,” says Dr. Edwards. “What they do not take away from us on economic grounds, we are undermining in the Black community by jailing, burying, and disqualifying so many young people who would become athletes.”