Born in St. Louis, Mo., the trajectory of young Harry Edwards’ life changed when he became part of the first generation of black students to desegregate East St. Louis Senior High School after the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, ending “separate-but-equal” racial accommodations of public facilities.
“Teachers had absolutely no idea what to do with black kids in the classroom. We thrived in sports, dominating football, basketball and track and field programs, but nobody had a place for us in the classroom,” Edwards recalls. “They kept us in sports. They kept passing us from grade to grade. In effect, they kept us eligible and ignorant. So after three years, I was proficient athletically in three sports, and utterly incompetent academically.”
After earning his Ph.D., Edwards moved to California in the 1960s to pursue an athletic career but became a self-styled “scholar-activist,” revolutionizing both academic and public discourse on the substance of sport and society. As the journalist Robert Lipsyte would write: “No other single figure in sports has done as much to make the country aware that the problems of the larger culture are recapitulated in sports, that the arena is no sanctuary from drugs, racism and corruption.”
Author of “Sociology of Sport and Revolt of the Black Athlete,” among other publications, Edwards counsels students and professional athletes alike to pursue “disciplined analysis, understanding, and application at the pitch of passion.”
Edwards was the architect of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which begot the black power salute by sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Edwards has also consulted with the NFL, NBA and MLB on issues associated with minority representation among athletes, coaches, front office executive and ownership.
The Texas Program in Sports and Media and The McGarr Symposium on Sports and Society are honored to announce the creation of the permanent Harry Edwards Lecture on Sport and American Culture at The University of Texas at Austin.
The Texas Program in Sports and Media
The Dr. Harry Edwards Lecture on Sport and American Culture is the second named lecture created by The Texas Program in Sports and Media (TPSM) as a forum to address important issues of sport and society. The Edwards Lecture, presented by the McGarr Symposium on Sports and Society, is named after and supported by the noted sports sociologist and professor emeritus from the University of California, Berkeley. At the inaugural address, Edwards presented “Lessons from the Life and Calling of a Once Failed Student.”
TPSM partnered with the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum in hosting a landmark conversation between NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, reflecting on their experiences in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. Part of the LBJ Library’s Civil Rights Summit, “Sports: Leveling the Playing Field – A Conversation with Bill Russell and Jim Brown” was a singular occasion for the sporting and cultural legends to reflect on the 50 years since President Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This conversation represented the initial iteration of the Dr. Harry Edwards Lecture on Sport and American Culture.
The Edwards Lecture joins the Frank Deford Lecture on Sports Journalism as a venue for esteemed professionals and accomplished academics to speak to the university community on pressing issues that lie at the intersection of sport and society. Deford presented the initial Deford Lecture in 2010. Since then, speakers have included journalists Sally Jenkins, David Maraniss, Jeremy Schaap and Neil Leifer. The McGarr Symposium on Sports and Society is the presenting sponsor of the Deford and Edwards Lectures.
For more information on The Texas Program in Sports and Media, please visit www.sportsandmedia.org.
The Dr. Harry Edwards Collection: Sport, Society and Social Change
Dr. Edwards donated a number of his personal items to San Jose State University to create the archival collection. One portion of the collection includes items from his academic and consulting experiences. Another portion features objects from his involvement with the Olympic Project for Human Rights. SJSU is developing a finding aid and an online version of the collection, which can be found here.