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Berkeley Talks transcript: Sociologist Harry Edwards on sport in society

Listen to Berkeley Talks episode #138: ‘Sociologist Harry Edwards on sport in society.’

[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]

Intro: This is Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Acast or wherever you listen. New episodes come out every other Friday.

[Music fades]

Stephen Small: Good afternoon and welcome. I’m Stephen Small, professor of African American Studies and director of the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues. On behalf of the Institute and Cal Athletics, it’s my pleasure to have you join us today to hear from our distinguished presenter, Dr. Harry Edwards, with an introduction from our very own chancellor, Carol Christ. Since we would rather not have interruptions today, can I please ask you to take a moment and silence your cellphones?

I want to begin by acknowledging that we are on the territory of the Xučyun, the ancestral and unceded land of the Chochenyo, Ohlone people. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Ohlone people. Every member of the Berkeley community has benefited and continues to benefit from the use and occupation of this land, and they’ve done so, or we’ve done so since the institution’s founding in 1868.

Consistent with the University values of community and diversity, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and make visible the University’s relationship to native peoples, and in particular, the way that the University of California, as a land-grant university, has benefited financially from the appropriation of native lands. By offering this land acknowledgement, I affirm indigenous sovereignty and our commitment to hold University of California, Berkeley more accountable to the needs of Native American people. Now I’m delighted to invite Chancellor Carol Christ to come up and share a few welcoming remarks. Please, chancellor.

Carol Christ: Thank you, Stephen. Good afternoon, and thank you so much for this opportunity to honor and to welcome Professor Emeritus Harry Edwards back to campus. The talk Harry will deliver today, Sport in Society: Intersectionalities, Consequences, and Projections is timely, important, and of great relevance for the campus community and our country. That should come as no surprise to all who are familiar with Harry’s amazing legacy of groundbreaking academic exploration and engagement in effective efforts to drive needed social change.

From 1970 to 2000, professor Edwards influenced, educated and activated countless Berkeley students, as an inspiring and provocative teacher and mentor. He was a leader and an innovator during a time of great social change, establishing the academic field of the sociology of sport with a particular focus on the intersections of race, sport and society. He brought and still brings to his discipline and his cause not only intellectual rigor, but passionate commitment, born of personal experience as a student athlete and as one of the architects of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which led to the famous 1968 Black power salute at the Olympics.

Drawing on his life experience and academic expertise, and while still a member of our faculty, Harry began providing consultation and advice to the teams and leagues of three major American sports, football, baseball and basketball, and worked especially closely with the San Francisco 49ers. He has, ever since, worked to compel the sports establishment to confront and to effectively address issues pertaining to diversity and equal opportunity. The programs and methods he developed for dealing with issues and challenges facing professional football players were adopted by the entire National Football League in 1992.

After his retirement from his faculty position in 2000, professor Edwards continued his consulting and public scholarship. He’s also served as a mentor to contemporary athlete activists including Colin Kaepernick, consistent with his belief that athletes can and should do more than just play the game. No wonder that he’s a role model to our student athletes, many of whom follow in his footsteps by working for social justice.

Before I conclude, I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for the primary sponsors of this wonderful event, the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues and Cal Athletics. I see great meaning and benefit in this coming together of two very different and highly valued parts of our campus community. In that context, I want to thank the leadership of ISSI for your essential work and our athletic director, Jim Knowlton, for his leadership that has made Cal Athletics a truly integral and fully integrated part of our community. We cannot build and sustain a diverse, equitable and inclusive campus community that offers a true sense of belonging for all absent these sort of partnerships and this sort of cross-campus participation.

A few final thoughts about professor Edwards. He’s a role model for all of us who are committed to civil rights and to social justice. He’s been engaged in this struggle for over 50 years and shows no sign of slowing down. Just one of his many recent projects is a television series on sports activism, which will be airing on Showtime here at UC Berkeley. As we work to become an anti-racist campus, we are still learning from Harry Edwards, and I look forward to learning from him today. Thank you.

Stephen Small: Thank you very much, Chancellor Christ. I see there are some people at the back. We have seats towards the front, so please feel free to come and join us there. Okay. Before I introduce our guest of honor, I’d like to tell you a few things about the format of the event. The event, as the Chancellor pointed out, is a collaboration between the Institute for the Study of Societal issues and Cal Athletics, who have worked closely together to implement the event.

After professor Edwards gives his remarks, Jim Knowlton, the director of Cal Athletics, is going to join us up-front. He will thank your co-sponsors and introduce our moderator for today, Dr. Ty-Ron Douglas. For those of you who are here in person, please jot your questions down on the white sheets, the white cards on your seat. For those of you who are joining us by Zoom, you can use the question and answer box to pose your questions at any time and we’ll pass them on to the moderator.

It’s my honor to say a few very brief words of invitation to my friend and colleague, Dr. Harry Edwards. I’ve met Dr. Edwards on many occasions. In fact, I completed a course on the sociology of sport with Dr. Edwards when I was a graduate student here in the sociology department in the 1980s.

I want to very briefly mention three memorable meetings. The first occasion that I met him, so to speak, was not in person, but when I was 11 years old, growing up in my home city, Liverpool. Yes, 11 years old. I met him when I saw him and heard him on television as the architect of the Olympic Project for Human Rights and the organizer of the Mexico Olympic protest. It was particularly inspiring to me and to many other young people in England because at that time, Black people in England had very few role models or mentors. This is something that I’ll never forget and it’s an example of Dr. Edwards’ global influence.

The second memorable occasion was when he was an affiliate at the Institute for the Study of Social Change, the predecessor of the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues. He was a close colleague and friend of professor Troy Duster, the institute’s founder. We saw him often at the institute because social change is what he’s always believed in.

The third memorable interaction has been over the last few months during our correspondence to finalize details for today’s event. As Chancellor Christ pointed out, he’s an extremely busy man, and I’m deeply motivated, inspired, and also energized by the fact that after so many decades of highly demanding activities and contributions, he still is committed and active as ever. This is an example of his stamina, his perseverance, and his endurance.

One last point. Dr. Edwards responded to every email I sent promptly, attentively and graciously. This may not seem like much, but it’s the little things that matter and that we often notice the most. This is something about him that’s not obvious to people who are familiar with him as a public persona. This, I believe, is an example of his integrity, his sincerity, and his decency. Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Dr. Harry Edwards.

Harry Edwards: I want to thank Steve, you and the chancellor for your gracious introductions, comments. If I were half as smart as you allege, I’d be sitting down now. No way I can live up to all of that, so in conclusion, let me just … The sociology of sport was a hard sell from the very outset. I came to California in December of 1959, one month after my 17th birthday, with a cardboard suitcase with everything in it that I owned and a shoebox full of athletic scholarships that I could not accept because of academic deficiencies. I was part of that first generation that went en masse to the integrated schools in 1957.

In East St. Louis, they integrated the elementary school first, the junior high school second in 1956. Then in 1957, they integrated, desegregated the high schools. That’s where all the dating and everything goes on, so that was the last to be desegregated. I was part of that mass, and they had no idea what to do with us when we got out there, so we played football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and track and field in the spring, so I left high school utterly unscathed by education. They never laid a glove on me in the classroom.

I could not accept any of the athletic scholarships that I had, and so I came out to California to go to a feeder school, to some of the four year institutions that had contacted me, and I enrolled in junior college in Fresno. In the one semester that I was there from January 1960 to June of 1960, I set a school record in the discus. Set a national discus record, and played the lat four games of basketball for the school team there, and my scholarship offers tripled. One of the places that got in touch with me was a place that I called, read as San Jose State. I had no idea what that was.

I was greeted at San Jose State by Julius Menendez, who as it turns out, was also from East St. Louis. At that time, he was also the boxing coach at San Jose State. Boxing was a collegiate sport at that time, and he was the Olympic coach for the 1960 Rome Olympics. He was tasked with convincing me to come to San Jose State, which was a burgeoning track power and also was developing a heck of a basketball program, although I initially came out to California to play football. I was a football player, basically, in East St. Louis. At 17 years old, 6’5″, 245 pounds, I saw myself playing defensive end, but I decided to come to San Jose State, largely as a result of Julius Menendez.

While I was there on that visit, he said he wanted me to meet somebody. He said, “He’s about your age. He could be a great fighter, but I’m going to tell you upfront, I’m going to warn you. I can’t stop him from talking.” That was my first introduction to Cassius Clay, also came to be known as Muhammad Ali. I walked up to him after I was introduced and asked him, I said, “Are you ready for all of those guys they’re going to be throwing at you when you get to Rome? You ready to get in the ring with them?” He said, “Ready? Ready? Bring them all in at the same time.” He started dancing, and shadow boxing, and everything. “I’ll whoop them. I’ll whoop them all. Bring them right now. I’ll whoop them all right now. They’re going to have so many bandages on their head, they’re going to look like they’re wearing turbans.”

Finally, after about five minutes of that, because I never got another word in, Julius pulled me away and said, “Well, what do you think?” I said, “I think he’s nuts.” Well, as it happens, in 1969, about 10 years later, I had returned to Cornell University to defend my Ph.D. dissertation. Some student groups on campus had invited Ali to speak on the anti-war movement. Because I had known him and had supported him in the Olympic Project for Human Rights and his conscientious objection to military service, they asked me to meet him down at the parking lot and walk him to the hall where he was going to speak.

We walked back up and talked about his case, and one thing or another. Once we got to the site of his talk, we were sitting up on the dais and he asked me, “Well, what are you doing now?” I guess, I kind of took off because I immediately started discussing my Ph.D. dissertation thesis and how I was applying structural, functional analysis overlaid by a conflict theoretical paradigm in order to get at what was happening in terms of race and sport, and this goes back over 100 years.

I say, “Ali, this goes back over 100 years.” I looked at him and, all of a sudden, his eyes were rolling up and his head was back, and he looked at me and said, “Is that right?” I said, “Yes. Well, man, you’re sitting right at the vortex of this now. You the man. You the focus of all of this storm that’s brewing over sport and society. You the man.” He said, “You don’t say?” I said, “Yeah, man. Hey.”

The program was running late and I had a meeting with my committee to schedule the defense of my dissertation and so I had to leave, but I did see one of the young ladies who was part of the group that sponsored him to come to campus. In fact, she introduced him before his speech and so I asked her, I said, “How did Ali’s talk go?” She said, “Oh, it went great.” She said, “I saw you guys up there talking. I would have given anything to be sitting on that seat between you just to hear that conversation, the Olympic Project for Human Rights and Muhammad Ali. That had to be a heck of a conversation.”

I said, “Well, what did he say?” She said, “Well, I asked him what you all talked about and he said, ‘I don’t know.'” I said, “What you mean?” “He said you sounded pretty far out there to him. He thought you was nuts.” I said, “I guess what goes around comes around.” He wasn’t the only one. He wasn’t the only athlete who didn’t understand what I was trying to get at because everybody had bought into this notion that sport was the toy department of human affairs, and recreation, and so forth.

My father thought I was nuts. When I graduated from San Jose State with high honors, I was on the draft board of the Minnesota Vikings, of the San Diego Chargers, of the American Football League. I was scouted by the Lakers as a rebounder and as a defender. I did have a left hand, so they knew I wasn’t going to be no offense, but I had a 39 and a half vertical at 6’8″, 260 pounds, so they scouted me.

My old man was livid because I told him I didn’t want to go into the pros. He didn’t understand that. How could I pass that up? That was the very epitome of Black success in America. If that was not the case, then what was a Jackie Robinson, and Joe Louis and a Jesse Owens for? That was his definition of success, and I told him, “I don’t want to go into the league. I don’t want to be drafted by the Vikings or the San Diego Chargers. I’m not interested in playing for the Lakers or going to the Olympics,” because I qualified for the Olympic trials as a discus thrower, and so he was livid.

He said, “You’ve been in college for four years and now you want to go back to college again.” I said, “Yeah, I want to be a sociologist.” “You want to go back to college four more years so you can be one of them things that Castro is.” I said, “No. Not a socialist. A sociologist.” He said, “Well, what the hell’s the difference?”

He didn’t speak to me for years. He didn’t speak to me, but eventually, ran into one of his old drinking buddies because that’s what he really wanted. He wanted to be able to sit up in a bar with his drinking buddies and say, “Yeah, that’s my boy sitting right there at the end of the bench with Vikings. As soon as one of them other boys get hurt, he going to get in.” That’s what he really wanted.

I ran into one of his old drinking buddies some years later, and he said, “You’re Harry’s boy.” I say, “Yeah.” He say, “Yeah. We was in the bar and the bartender was just going through the stations and, all of a sudden, there you was.” I say, “Yeah.” I say, “What was this?” He say, “You was with that boy that use all them big old words, be cutting people up.” I said, “Oh, you mean William F. Buckley.” He say, “Yeah, you was debating Buckley.” I said, “Okay.” I said, “Well, did you all watch the whole thing?” He said, “We sure did, and I told your daddy, at the end of it, I said, ‘Well, I didn’t understand all them big old words they was throwing around, but somebody was getting their ass whopped, and it wasn’t your boy.'”

Buckley was brilliant, but he knew absolutely nothing about sports. He didn’t know anything about sports. He knew even less about developments at the interface of race and sport, and I had him figured out. When I went in there, when the chauffeur dropped me off at the green room at the studio where we were shooting Firing Line, he said, “Mr. Buckley will be in in about 15 minutes.” Well, I knew what Buckley was good for. I had already dyed half of my beard. Not the whole beard, just half a dark black. The rest of it was gray. I got the smallest chair that I could find in the green room. It was almost like I was sitting on the floor. Buckley came in with his usual thing. He’s going to intimidate somebody, stare them in the eyes and one thing or another. He came in and the toes of his shoes was almost touching the toes of my shoes.

He said, “Mr. Edwards.” I said, “Yeah,” and I began to stand up. I just kept standing up, and I could see his eyes roll up. His face was saying, “What the hell is this?” When we got on the set, it was like, “Hey, man.” He was knocked out before he even got in the ring, but the point is … Of course, the guy, he said something else to me, my old man’s drinking partner.

He said, “We saw y’all in that Super Bowl too.” I said, “Oh, is that right?” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “Your daddy’s buttons was popping off, but you were just standing there at the end of the bench. We asked him, what did you do? You wasn’t coaching and you sure wasn’t playing. We asked your daddy, what did you do? Your daddy said, ‘He run the heads.'” I said, “I trust he was talking about the players and not the facility.”

At the end of the day, it was tough for me to convince my father. But you know what? We got to move away from just thinking athletics. We got to start thinking about, how do we control the definitions that are being projected and evolve? He had no understanding of that.

The real challenge, however, came with academia. It was in academia that the greatest obstacles were encountered. That was the steepest hill to climb. Part of it was racial. From the time that Black people came to these shores in chains, we have not been perceived or accepted as creditable witnesses to our own circumstances, outcomes and aspirations. This is why it took the camera phone before we could even convince mainstream America that we were being murdered under cover of the badge. We’ve been saying that for generations. I remember cousins and others who were killed by police officers, and nobody went to jail. There was no investigation, nobody was charged. We’ve been complaining about that for generations, and all of a sudden, you get the camera phone and there’s no denying it.

This goes back to slavery when the slave master said, “My slaves are happy,” and those enslaved said, “We want to be free,” and staged over 300 violent revolts in order to emphasize the point. That was part of the problem. Another part of the problem, there are these hidebound disciplinary fences that nobody dares cross. If you are talking athletics, “You’re talking something physical. Go down to the physical education department. Don’t bring that up. This is intellectual.”

My point was, I don’t care what it is. You got to understand it, and if sociology has any relevance, it has to be relevant to this. You can’t tell me that there are monographs, sociological monographs, sociological studies, entire books, dissertations written on dyads, two-person relationships and triads, three-person relationships, but a hundred million people watching the Super Bowl is not sociologically relevant. I say, “You can’t tell me that,” and so finally, my committee allowed me to write my dissertation on the sociology of sport.

Out of this notion of sport as a social institution, there came a number of corollary perspectives. First, what I called in my dissertation, the first principle of a new subdiscipline called the sociology of sport and that is, that sport inevitably recapitulates or reproduces the character, structure and dynamics of human and institutional relationships in and between societies and the ideological values and sentiments that rationalize and justify those relationships. To me, it was clear, even back in the mid-1960s, that the implications of the first principle were both profound and far reaching.

Not only did it project the institutional intersectionalities, the interface of sport and other institutional arenas of societal life, sport and economics, sport and politics, sport and education, sport and religion, sport and the military, sport and human relations, including race relations, gender relations, and so forth, but also that because of the intensity and scope of a population’s necessary engagement through those institutional structures and a population’s internalization, acculturation and the ideological definitions by which they behave in those structures, those sport could be used to leverage change. That you could use sport to change people’s perceptions and understandings of what’s going on in those institutions and therefore, to change their understandings of behavior.

You can change society by changing people’s perceptions and understandings of the games they play. People say, “Well, that’s the toy department of human affairs. What are you talking about?” I’m saying whether it’s race relations in America, whether it’s relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and China, whether it’s what’s going on in South Africa with apartheid, you can leverage sport to change people’s perceptions and understandings of those relationships. Change society by changing people’s perceptions and understandings of the games they play.

One of the things that happened early on was Nelson Mandela saw the demonstrations at Mexico City, and he had a poster that we had had printed up and a photo of Smith and Carlos on the podium in Mexico City smuggled into his jail cell on Robben Island in 1968. He taught the other inmates in jail, in prison in Robben Island, using those materials.

When he got out and people said, “Disband the Springbok rugby team. Get rid of all of these apartheid structures in sport and in society,” he said, “No, no, no. We’re not going to disband Springboks. We’re going to expand the Springbok because that’s the way we’re going to avoid a bloodbath here.” He said, “Sport has the power to change the world,” and really set about what he was doing in South Africa based on the model that he tried to establish, and project and portray in sports. It started when he saw Smith and Carlos on the podium in Mexico City.

Eventually, people began to come around. My committee at Cornell told me, “Yeah, okay. Go ahead. You can write your dissertation on the sociology of sports, but you’re going to be laughed out of the discipline.”

Well, here we are 50-something years later. Nobody’s laughing. The reality is that sport is ongoing in its impact and its relationships. A vast scope of people are involved with it and that impact, that consequence, that intersectionality of sport and all other kinds of issues continue.

One of the things that I stated in 1968, when a reporter asked me, “What makes you think that the Olympic Project for Human Rights is going to make a difference? Jackie Robinson didn’t make a difference. Joe Louis didn’t make a difference. What makes you think that the Olympic Project for Human Rights is going to make a difference? What makes you think that these issues are going to be conquered?”

What I told him is something that I’ve held til this day. In point of fact, it’s on a flashboard over the entryway to the Sports Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture. Our challenges are diverse and dynamic. Our struggle, therefore, must be multifaceted and perpetual, and there are no final victories. We’re not looking to resolve the problem. We’re deeply involved with that first sentence of the United States Constitution, “We the people, in order to form a more perfect Union.” Not a perfect Union. A more perfect Union. That’s all I was saying. There are no final victories, and so I wasn’t looking for the Olympic Project for Human Rights to resolve all of the problems. I was looking for the Olympic Project for Human Rights to make a contribution.

In point of fact, we can look at developments before then and since and see where that has been an ongoing struggle. We can go back to long before I wrote the Sociology of Sport or the Revolt of the Black Athlete, to 1896 and Pierre de Coubertin, who established the modern Olympics, who was a racist, an anti-Semite, who saw the Nazi model as what he wanted for the Olympic Games.

In point of fact, he conspired with Hitler to have Nazi Germany become the permanent home of the Olympic Games. He wanted all of the papers and all the artifacts, and all of the history of the Olympics housed at a 400,000-seat stadium that he and Hitler had planned for the Olympic Games. That’s the intersection of sport and society. The banishment of Black jockeys from horse racing. Though they won 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derbies and won two back-to-back Derbies. Some of them winning as teenagers, 17 and 19 years old. That was evidence of the intersectionality of sport and society. To banish these athletes, these jockeys, not because they were incompetent, not because they didn’t fit the meritocracy, not because they couldn’t get it done, but because they were successful. That tells us something. That tells us something.

The struggle for legitimacy, “If I go out and just work hard, and if I go out and just show that I’m superior, if I go out and just show that I’m competent, and capable,” and so forth, “If I throw my bucket down where I am and show that I can put together an alternative, parallel institution that’s as good as anything, eventually, America will come to me and say, ‘You indeed are capable and competent to be a citizen.'” Never happened, because all we had to do was look at what happened to Black jockeys and that tells us that you are not going to be able to overcome racism, prejudice through simple excellence. I don’t care how great the meritocracy is.

When we look at the segregation of baseball, Rube Foster, when he started the Negro Leagues, thought that eventually, the Major Leagues would come calling. Because the players were just that good, he thought they would come calling to bring in at least two teams from the Negro Leagues into the Majors, or maybe one team made up of the best players. They weren’t going to do that. The Major League wasn’t going to do that precisely because they were so good. What would the Major Leagues be like every year having to play a team that had Hank Aaron, Don Newcombe, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, just one great player after … What would they do? They won their last World Series. They’re not going to do that, and so the Negro Leagues just sat out there. Finally, Rube Foster died, never seeing a Black player playing in the Majors.

When the Majors did come calling, they didn’t come calling for entire teams. They didn’t bring in the coaches, the managers, the front office, the owners, and so forth. It was predatory inclusion. They went in and got the best players out of the Negro Leagues. They went in and got Jackie Robinson, and Roy Campanella. They went in and got Larry Doby. NFL did the same thing. They brought in Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley, Bill Willis.

When they began to develop players in the colleges, after Brown versus Board of Education in 1954, the colleges did the same thing. They didn’t bring in the Black coaches. They didn’t bring in the Black front office people from the Black schools who were from the communities that the athletes came from. They brought in the athletes and so today, we’re stuck with this predatory inclusion.

We have a thing going on right now in the pros. We have a thing going on at the collegiate level. They can get 105 players. They’ll have 56% of the roster will be Black in college, but when you see who’s on the field, it’s another whole thing. Because you can put Harry Potter on the roster, but who you put on the field is what counts. Seventy percent of the players in the NFL are Black, but when you look at New Orleans playing Miami, it’s like looking at Alabama playing Clemson. It looks like I’m playing Nigeria because that’s who you put on the field, but where are the Black coaches? It was predatory inclusion when they did come calling. That is an intersectionality of sport and society. The racial segregation in pro and collegiate sports, even where we have access.

When you look at the isolation of women, as far as sport is concerned, it took Title IX to get women sports opportunities, and at the end of it, we’re still battling that struggle. Again, sport, I think, the sociology of sport has proven its worth.

Let me say a few things about what might be up the road. We can look right now and see that the thing with Russia has blown up. Sport reflects relationships within and between societies and ideologies that justify and rationalize those relationships. We have now the IOC, which claimed that sport wasn’t political, and they don’t get involved in politics, pushing for a total boycott of Russia. You have FIFA, the soccer league, pushing for a total boycott of Russia. The Women’s Tennis Association has already pushed for a total boycott of Russia. That is going to continue to explode and blow up. We have the Brian Flores situation at the pro level, and make no mistake about it. Look at the NFL. NFL does not go to court. They don’t want to go to court and have all those emails and things all stretched out there, and have owners sitting in the docket being interrogated, and one thing or another.

NFL settles, and people are attacking Loretta Lynch for taking a job defending the NFL. That’s who I want defending them because she’s going to be the one to cut the deal, and then cutting the deal, she’s going to say, “Here’s what we’re going to correct some of the problems and issues that brought this to the fore in the first place.”

As far as the money’s concerned, the money’s not a problem. NFL has a history of just stacking money on the table until somebody cries uncle, and they’ll do the same thing in this case. The more important issue is negotiating, what do we do to make the correction? I’m so proud of Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan for pushing the equal pay thing for women because I think that that has potential to spread to other sports, and maybe even the society, so that struggle is continuing.

Let me say a few words in closing. I know you have some questions and everything that I’ll be glad to entertain. This old age is really a trip. It has ups and downs to it. I’m looking at 80 early in this way from the other side of the horizon. One of those things that has a good side and a bad side. Some of the good sides is, one, there’s no peer pressure anymore. They’re all gone. The other thing is, you can always say, “I didn’t hear what you said.” Or, “I forgot.” My wife used to do a whole bunch of, “Honey, do this. Honey, do that. Honey, do that.” Now when she says, “Honey, do …” I say, “What did you say?” She ended up finally just saying, “The heck with this. He either forgets or didn’t hear me, so I’ll just go and do it myself,” and she’s become very good at it.

Then there are some downsides to this stuff to, to this aging. You get lost in the corridors of your mind from time to time, and you wind up doing stuff that makes absolutely no sense, if you were on top of your game. I was laying in my easy chair reading a pile of articles and at this age, when you got to go, you got to go, so I jumped up, and ran for the bathroom and pulled the door open, and when I pulled the door open, the light came on. I said, “Man, she’s really been busy. She’s fixed it so I don’t even have to fumble to find the light switch in the bathroom.” Thank goodness, fortunately, I spotted the almond milk and head of cabbage in time, and found I was standing in front of the refrigerator, but that’s part of the deal in this old age. You just got to get over it and get on with it.

Let me just conclude this part of this thing by saying something that I said to my last class that I taught here. It’s been a privilege. It’s time for me to go, and it’s been a true blessing. I want to give the people who sponsor this a couple of things just as commemoratives. The Athletic Department, thank you so much. When I was here, Ron Rivera told me once, he said, “With the Athletic Department, they tell folks, ‘Don’t take Edwards’ class because he’ll mess with your head.'” I guess, my old man was right. I was running people’s heads. In any event, I want to give you this, so that you can remember. Throw it across a chair or something like that, Ty.

When an athlete comes and says, “There are some things … I’m part of this country, too, and forming that more perfect Union means as much to me as to anybody else. I got some things that I want to say,” you’ll set them down and say, “Well, let’s talk about it. Let’s see how we get this right.” I want to give this to you. I know, I saw some people out there shaking their head when I said I had a 39-and-a-half-inch vertical. Well, there it is. I want to give this and present this to you. Hopefully, you will throw it over a chair or something in the counseling room, and when they come in, you’ll say, “Hey, thank you.” Okay?

Jim Knowlton: Thank you.

Harry Edwards: I want to give this to Steve at the Institute. This is a portrait done by the child prodigy and artistic genius, Tyler Gordon, that he did a while back, autographed. Across the bottom, it has that saying that’s on the flashboard above the Sports Hall at the National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Thank you for sponsoring this.

Stephen Small: Fantastic. Thank you.

Harry Edwards: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Jim Knowlton: Please, you can have a seat now.

Harry Edwards: Oh, okay.

Stephen Small: Okay. Thank you very much, Harry, for a very thoughtful, provocative, and insightful, and humorous account of your life and your contributions. Now, I’d like to introduce Jim Knowlton, who will introduce his colleague, Dr. Ty-Ron Douglas. Jim.

Jim Knowlton: Steve, thank you.

Stephen Small: Thank you very much.

Jim Knowlton: Let’s give Dr. Edwards one more big round of applause. That was amazing. If I could start off just by bringing the Chancellor up, and Stephen, I’d love to get a picture. One of our student athletes, Marcel Dancy’s going to present a gift to Dr. Edwards, and I’d love to get a pic …

Jim Knowlton: Well, that was special. I have 30 minutes to talk and only five minutes or three minute to do it, so it’s going to be quick because I want to hear more. Just a few things. When I heard a few of the things that Dr. Edwards said, that sport has the power to change the world, I truly believe that. Our athletic department, we really are embarking to integrate with campus and try to make a difference, and so to hear what you said really inspires us and gives us that motivation to continue the journey that we’re on for our student athletes and for our staff.

The first Zoom I had with Dr. Edwards, Jane in the back, Jane Jackson starts the Zoom, and immediately started gushing about how the best class she ever took was your class, Dr. Edwards. She remembered it like yesterday and so, yeah, I’m jealous. I would have loved to have taken that class, as well as I’m sure everyone here would have as well.

I want to make sure that I just celebrate this partnership with ISSI. I feel like, in athletics, we are trying so hard to integrate across campus. Stephen, this is such a great opportunity to partner together in something that truly is at the intersection both of what we do, and so I’m grateful to you, and grateful for the partnership to bring Dr. Edwards together.

I also just want to make sure I highlight the sponsors that have helped us put this together. It’s the African American Student Development, Othering and Belonging Institute, School of Social Welfare, Department of African American Studies and the Department of Sociology. I’d also like to thank Chancellor Christ. Thanks for coming. You always seem to be wherever students are and wherever things are happening, and so we’re grateful for all you do for the campus, and really for being where the point is, sort of that center of gravity, as we talked about in our meeting today.

We just finished Black History Month, and when I say we just finished celebrating Black History Month, what I really mean to say is we finished the month that leads to the next month, that leads to 12 months, and leads beyond. I truly believe that some of the things that we’re doing under the chancellor’s leadership in our athletic department is really helping us be inclusive and helping everyone in our department belong. I think if we’re all working to do the same, it is going to continue to help us follow what Dr. Edwards was talking about back in the ’70s and ’80s, and really help us help everyone feel like they belong here at the University of California, Berkeley.

I’m excited. We just added a J to our DEIB efforts, and the J is for justice. In athletics, we talk about it. It’s the juice of DEIB because you can’t spell justice without juice. I think that that really is part of doing right by this work in DEIB. We’re excited about the progress, but as Dr. Edwards said, and I wrote this down, when you talk about the more perfect Union, there’s no final victory, so we’re continuing this process, and they’re small victories, but certainly not final victories.

I’m looking forward to this next section. Dr. Douglas, I know you’re going to do right by Dr. Edwards. Dr. Justice … I mean, Ty Douglas is … Yeah, yeah. I got justice on my mind. Dr. Douglas is our first associate athletic director for diversity, equity, and inclusion, belonging, and now justice, and in his one year on the job, has really accelerated the growth in the athletic department. I’m proud to have him here with us, and certainly looking forward to your comments and the interaction today. Thank you very much and, Go Bears!

Ty-Ron Douglas: Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Jim. We’re grateful for your presence here today. We want to make sure that we’re engaging our virtual audience as well. I believe we have people watching from around the world, so if you would, in the chat, type where you’re from, where you’re currently watching.

I want to make sure that we can honor a particular person who has given us a question. She came all the way from Chicago to ask it in person, so I’m going to allow her to have the first question I’ll read. I also want to make sure that you know, audience members, that there are index cards in your chair. We invite you to write your question down on that, on those index cards, hold them up, and Bobby Thompson, our director of operations and engagement, will grab them and hopefully, we’ll do our best to be able to accommodate them. All right. Dr. Edwards, thank you again. A wonderful talk, sir.

Harry Edwards: Thank you, thank you. Thank you very much.

Ty-Ron Douglas: Dr. Johari Shuck, our friend in common, came all the way from Chicago in person, and she has a question for you. She said, “You talked about Black athletes in mass media in some of your previous work. How do you think the modern-day phenomena of social media and NIL can help or harm the image and experiences of Black athletes?”

Harry Edwards: Well, the media has been a critical part of the athletic enterprise from the outset. The media not only abetted, but helped to sustain racial segregation, for example, in baseball. Even the baseball writers, at their yearly dinner in New York, used to do a Black face skit during the segregation years, and so they were in full agreement with what was happening in baseball.

The mainstream media had a substantial monopoly. Even with a fairly strong Black media, they had a substantial monopoly on definitions of reality in sports. One of the ongoing struggles from the very outset, particularly from the perspective of Black people, has been this struggle for definitional authority. What Colin Kaepernick was involved in was a struggle for definitional authority. For generations, as I stated, America had not only tolerated but literally condemned any challenge to the notion that killing under the cover of the badge was almost defacto, justifiable.

What Colin Kaepernick was saying was, “No, no, no. We’re better than this.” We’re better than 147 Black men, women, and children, every year since 1968, being killed under cover of the badge, and in most cases, nobody even being charged, much less prosecuted or sentenced to prison. “We’re better than that.” That was the statement that he was making, so with the onset of the technology of the social media, all of a sudden, athletes themselves had, in hand, the ability to set their own definitions of reality.

Not only that, it was the social media that put Kaepernick on front stage. Somebody took a picture of him sitting on a cooler during the playing of the National Anthem and said, “Well, what is this?” Then when he began to explain, there’s no justice for people of color in this society as long as they can be shot down with impunity. The mass, the social media augmented the definitional authority of athletes to set their own, to frame up their own dispositions, and so forth.

Now, with that goes the necessity of doing your homework, and this is where the breakdown often takes place because they find so many obstacles in their way to being able to step up and say, “I want to change this stage that I’ve achieved through athletic excellence into a platform to make a statement about something that is critically important, that’s bigger than basketball, that’s bigger than football, that’s bigger than baseball.”

They run into so many obstacles that, oftentimes, they end up dealing with the obstacles rather than doing the homework in order to press the point. That’s where the greatest breakdown comes, but we’ve even made some progress in that regard. What I tend to tell athletes when they ask me, “What can I …” I say, “Read the Revolt of the Black Athlete.” I said, “It’s been reprinted after 50 years,” which means that there had to be something in there. That’s the situation we’re really confronted with here.

Ty-Ron Douglas: Thank you. I appreciate you sharing that. We look forward to receiving your questions.

I have another question that I think is actually connected to what you just shared. You mentioned in a previous speech I had the opportunity of listening to … By the way, we have St. Louis connections. You mentioned that no one was able to lay a glove on you in the classroom, but you talk about being eligible for three sports. You also mentioned that you don’t know when the shift took place, at your age, to becoming a serious student at San Jose State, but the shift happened. We have student-athletes who are watching. What would you say to a student-athlete who’s trying to figure out, “How do I make that shift?” To know that they’re brilliant?

Harry Edwards: You can go online and look up Dr. Harry Edwards, A “Blueprint” for Educational Achievement. I found that, over the last half century, my own experience and what I’ve learned dealing with students here at Berkeley and at San Jose State, what I’ve learned in over 1,300 lectures that I’ve given around the world on sport and society, and other issues, is that everybody can learn. We’ve got to believe that most people can learn optimally if they are inspired to do so. I’ve always, I fell in love with every class I ever taught here, as I said. One of the things … I had my issues with the Department of Sociology changing all the rest of that stuff, but they gave me an opportunity to teach. I’ve always thought that teaching is the greatest of all professions.

Ty-Ron Douglas: Come on.

Harry Edwards: Because unlike architecture, or being an attorney, or a medical doctor, or an engineer who do something for somebody, a teacher incites people to think and inspires them to learn so that they can do for themselves.

Ty-Ron Douglas: That’s awesome.

Harry Edwards: If you are fortunate enough to have a good teacher, and I had some good teachers, I had some great teachers in college, then it’s on you to follow what I call that blueprint for educational achievement. First, respect the challenge that’s in front of you. It’s like football. A lot of people want to be out there in that uniform on Saturday afternoon, but they don’t want to take them hits. You know.

Ty-Ron Douglas: Right, yeah, yeah.

Harry Edwards: You’ve got to respect the challenges of what it is you’re attempting to do. Education is enjoyable but it’s not fun. It’s hard work.

Ty-Ron Douglas: Yeah.

Harry Edwards: The second thing is to learn to dream with your eyes open, that not everything is going to come to you. Sometime, you’re going to have to go get it. Learn to dream with your eyes open. Learn to behave as if. One of the things I found out is that if I begin to behave as if I was a great student, eventually, that would happen. Every football that I’ve been on … I have four Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers, and every one of those great teams, they practiced and behaved as great teams long before they became champions. Learn to behave as if.

Learn to take advantage of the only proven, demonstrable shortcut to success, hard work, because everything else is more difficult, and learn to persevere. That means living in anticipation of tomorrow. A lot of people live in anticipation of today, this afternoon, tonight. “What’s going on at the club? What am I going to be doing? Am I going …” Learn to live in anticipation of tomorrow because what you do today is exactly and precisely what you’re going to be tomorrow.

By the way, that’s in the back as an appendix to the 50-year anniversary reissue of The Revolt of the Black Athlete, which I wrote, I think I was 24 years old, 22 years old, or something like that. I thought I could change the world by changing people’s perceptions of the games they play, as I stated. That’s what I would suggest. If you want to really be a great student, get a blueprint, find yourself a great teacher. It may not even be in what you want to do, but they’re a great teacher, and then learn as much as you can from them.

That would be my suggestion. That’s how I woke up. That’s how I saw students at Berkeley wake up, because most of the students that I taught at Berkeley had never had a Black professor. I walk into the classroom and I could see them out there, “I dare you to teach me something. Don’t even bother. I’m in here because I got to take this for general education credit.” Before we had been in there for a month and a half, I’d be lecturing, all of a sudden, hands are going. I said, “I understand, bro. I understand where you’re coming from.” You woke up. Hands waving and everything. They got something to say, so everybody can learn, and most people can learn optimally.

Ty-Ron Douglas: Wonderful. I’ve got the signal that we actually have about five minutes for additional questions. If you want to stay with us for five minutes, can you just wave five fingers for us, or … Just raise it for us, if you’re interested in this and you want to stay with us. All right. I’m going to ask a question from the audience, Dr. Edwards. “How do we create systems in collegiate sports that deliver equitable support of Black athletes?”

Harry Edwards: We’re going to have to first understand the circumstances that many of these athletes come into collegiate sports with. This thing started out after Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, as a system of predatory inclusion. That’s where it started. That’s the foundation. That’s why we see this inordinate numbers on the field and deficient numbers in the front office and in the coaching ranks.

To first understand the circumstances and issues that these Black athletes bring to these universities that, for most of them, are culturally alien because despite Brown versus Board of Education, reality is that most Black students still go to predominately Black or all Black high schools, and so forth. They’re the ones who are coming to college on these scholarships, and so not understanding those communities, not being involved with those communities, it’s very difficult to craft programs at a higher level to deal with the issues that they bring to the table.

That’s one of the things that Bill Walsh and I tried to do over the years that we worked together for the athletes who had even come to the professional level in the NFL, in the player programs that we started. Counseling, financial, and tax consultation and training, most certainly college degree completion. All those kinds of programs that we started for athletes. But it started with us first sitting down and saying, “Okay. What are these athletes bringing into the locker room? What is it that we can do to enhance their experience, not just as players, but as men?” The collegiate ranks are going to have to do the same thing. They’re going to have to understand that diversity works, not just on the field, but also in the front office among the coaches.

Ty-Ron Douglas: Thank you. We’re down to about three minutes. We want to acknowledge our Zoom audience. We have a question from Meredith. She’s asked via Zoom, “What changes …” If we could also try to get these answers in in maybe about 30 seconds or so. I know you have so much to offer us. We want to get as many questions as we can. “What changes would you make to the Rooney Rule to increase Black head coaches in the NFL?” In 30 seconds.

Harry Edwards: When Bill Walsh and I started the Minority Coaches Outreach Program, we tried to put an addendum on it, where if you hired a Black coach, you would get an automatic additional, depending on where you were. If you were an under 500 team, you would get an automatic third round draft pick, additional. If you were in the 600 range in terms of your wins, you would get a fifth round or a fourth round. That was automatically scotched, “No, we’re not going to do that.” Well, what that meant was that the Rooney Rule had no teeth. As long as the Rooney Rule has no teeth, it doesn’t make any difference what you do with it. You’ve got to have somebody who craft a system to address what is a systematically, institutionally hidebound racist culture.

One of the things that I like about the NFL getting Loretta Lynch, even though she’s been jumped all over for taking the job, is that … Like I said, the NFL doesn’t go to court. The NFL settles. I don’t care what it is. They just stack money on the table until somebody say, “Yeah, that’s enough,” but with this, they also have to deal with the issues that Brian Flores was concerned about, and I can’t think of anybody better than Loretta Lynch to do that. People keep comparing Brian Flores with Colin Kaepernick. This is uninformed. It doesn’t deal with the realities of the situation.

What Kaepernick was dealing with came over the stadium wall. There was nothing that the NFL could do about police violence or social justice in a broader society. They didn’t ask them to. They just said, “Support us or help us to get the word out.” What Brian is talking about is germane and inherent in the functioning and operation of the NFL. There’s something they can do about that, and I think that’s what Loretta Lynch’s biggest task is going to be: Not to get the NFL off the hook for this discrimination and these phony interviews, because the money is going to do that, but they’re going to have to make the changes in order for people to sit back and say, “Okay. Let’s go forward.”

Ty-Ron Douglas: Love it. We’re down to two minutes. Today’s the first day of Women’s History Month. In an interview that I watched, you highlighted athletes who inspire you today, including Ariyana Smith of Knox College, Maya Moore, Gwen Barry, a hammer thrower. Today, as women are watching today, reflecting on activism and their powerful leadership, what would you share to our women and to our men who need to do a better job of supporting our women in sports?

Harry Edwards: No, we can’t do this just as an addendum. You got to have me back to talk about women in sports. Not only have women been involved, they’ve been in the forefront. The first athlete to demonstrate during the playing of the National Anthem was a woman by the name of Rose Robinson in the 1959 Pan Am Games in Chicago.

She sat down and said, “I’m not going to stand up for the Anthem, because I’d be standing up for a lie. My people are segregated right here in Chicago and you want me to stand up for the Anthem and say, ‘The land of the free and the home of the brave.’ We’re not free.” Then you look at … This is 1959. This was 10 years before Smith and Carlos.

Ariyana Smith, in 2014, went to Stanton, Missouri, and went out and laid on the floor during the playing of the National Anthem. She’s from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She laid out on the floor during the playing of the National Anthem for four minutes and 20 seconds in commemoration of the four hours and 20 minutes that Mike Brown’s body lay in the street, and the police wouldn’t even allow his family to pick him up as his blood ran into the gutter. She said, “I can’t come here and play no basketball game and act like that didn’t happen.”

You can go back to Wilma Rudolph. Wilma Rudolph was the darling of the 1960 Rome Olympics, but what people don’t tell you about is that Wilma Rudolph changed the culture in Clarksville, Tennessee, her hometown. Integrated the hotels, integrated the swimming pools, integrated other facilities, and as a result, the mainstream media didn’t want to have anything to do with her. They wanted her to continue to be the darling of the 1960 Olympics. She said, “No, no, no.” She said, “I’m an American. I’m a human being. I’m a citizen. I’m Black. This has got to change.” She’s out there.

Then, of course, you’ve got people like Maya Moore, who I just love. Maya Moore was, arguably, the greatest basketball player in the NBA when she quit at the top of her game and went to seek the release of a young man in St. Louis, in Missouri, who had been convicted as a teenager for some alleged crime and sentenced to 50 years in jail. She said, “That’s not right. We can’t be sending teenagers to jail for 50 years. They’re kids,” and got him out. Her work got him out.

What she was saying was, “It’s not about the numbers.” It’s just like Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” Whether it was one person or whether it was 100,000, she was saying, “This one person is worth me stepping away to get this done.” Now if it had been LeBron James, we’d still be talking about how great he was, but it was a woman, and we tend to look at women still as if they don’t matter. Well, hey, women matter.

Ty-Ron Douglas: Absolutely. We want to close with this. I want to say out loud the name of our Coach Charmin Smith of our women’s basketball team. We can put our hands together for them. They’re at the Pac-12 tournament even right now. If they were here, Dr. Edwards, I’m sure they probably would have been in the room. I just want to acknowledge their leadership in our department in the area of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and justice.

Harry Edwards: Well, that’s good. I’m glad you brought that up, bro, because I was just about to say, any place I go and somebody come up with a program, my first question is, “Well, where are women in this?” When they say … I get up and I’m gone because I know, hey, it ain’t going nowhere.

Ty-Ron Douglas: In the words … Pardon the interruption. I’m going to get you out of here on this one, all right?

Harry Edwards: Right.

Ty-Ron Douglas: I’m sorry. You foresaw the Olympic Project in 1968 being successful. You saw that. You saw that the boycott of the 1984 Olympics was coming. You saw that. You also mentioned that you suggested or sensed that in 1986, there would be issues as it relates to athletes struggling with drugs. Some would say you’re somewhat of a prophet, perhaps. Prophetic even, or at least visionary. You mentioned also the definition of a scholar activist, one who pursues disciplinary knowledge, analysis and application at the pitch of passion. Speak to your audience today about what you see, and how we can be scholar activists in 2022 and beyond.

Harry Edwards: Well, I think that what’s coming down, women are going to be in the forefront. This sixth wave of athlete activism … We’ve been through five. There’s too much to go through here, but this sixth wave of athlete activism is going to be led by women. That’s why you see Naomi Osaka. That’s why you see Simone Biles. That’s why you Serena out there. That’s why Ariyana Smith is so important. That’s why Maya Moore is so important. That’s why Candace Parker is so important. That’s why the women of the Atlantic Dream Team who flipped the Senate in Georgia are so important. That’s why it’s important that we have a Black woman going on the United States Supreme Court, and a Black woman who’s vice president of the United States. Women are going to be leading this, but let me say this: The next big challenge is going to be Roe v. Wade.

We look at Title IX in 1972, which mandated parity for women in sport, but very few people look at the fact that what gave colleges, and universities and professional teams assurance that the women that they signed the contracts, that the women that they recruited to play basketball and so forth at the collegiate level in May would be around in September to enroll in school was Roe V. Wade. When Roe v. Wade goes, if Roe v. Wade goes under attack the way it is being attacked in Texas and Georgia, if that sweeps the country, that’s an existential threat to women in sports because there’s no way … Even if those women who are pros and on college campuses have access to the medical services and so forth that they deserve, this thing is going to hit the pool, especially in at-risk communities.

You’re looking at a situation where the very foundations of women’s sports could be eroded and washed away because of the demise of Roe v. Wade. This is going to call for women to step up and say, “No, no, no. We’re going to continue to play the games, and Roe v. Wade is going to remain enforced.”

By the way, men should get behind this as well with women because — I’m going to be perfectly honest with you — there are schools that I know of right now who are virtually running daycare centers because their star athletes have babies on campus. The girl says, “I’m going to stay in school and finish my degree.” Used to be they’d send her home to Aunt Susie’s or something, and all of a sudden, she’d have another brother. Come back two years later, the athletes gone, she’s back in school, and her family’s trying to raise her child. That don’t happen no more. These ladies are saying what? Going to the pro, they’re signing them for what now, $10 million? “I’m going to be right here,” and so you have these schools across the country, athletic departments that are virtually running daycare centers.

If Roe v. Wade goes, think of the nightmare that that’s going to become for the athletic departments, for the male athletes, and so forth. You’re talking about young people on campus. A lot of times, the hormones are doing the thinking, not the brain. At the end of the day, men should get behind this and say, “No. We got to get behind this. We got to support these women athletes who are trying to save women’s athletics,” because the assaults on Roe v. Wade is an existential threat to women’s sports.

Ty-Ron Douglas: Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Harry Edwards. Let’s give him a hand.

Harry Edwards: Thank you. Thank you all so much.

[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]

Outro: You’ve been listening to Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Acast or wherever you listen. You can find all of our podcast episodes with transcripts and photos on Berkeley News at news.berkeley.edu/podcasts.