Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos protest at 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City
L-R: H Rap Brown, John Carlos, Dr. Harry Edwards and Stokely Carmichael hold press conference to discuss race and politics in America
Dr. Edwards and I have been closely associated since the early 70s. It was shortly after the airing of The Original Inside Sports on W-O-O-K Radio in Washington, DC that we connected.
He is the author of “The Revolt of the Black Athlete.” Dr. Edwards was also the architect of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which led to the Black Power Salute protest by sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, both San Jose State College athletes. The salute has been seen world-wide and it is now a reminder and symbol of racism in America. The protest took place at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. He is a former athlete on the San Jose track and field team (Discus) which means that he has been in the trenches as an athlete and community advocate. It is now forty-seven years later and it clearly proves with the turmoil taking places in inner-cities around America, the Olympic Project for Human Rights was ahead of its time. Dr. Edwards has never been at a loss for words when it comes to the struggle of people of color in America in all walks of life.
In several of my recent blogs related to police brutality and the black athlete/media personalities who claim they understand the dynamics of racism in America, Dr. Edwards begs to disagree. Especially, those who have no track records of doing anything worthwhile in the black community before they became a “Million Dollar Slave” or a radio or television personality. I thought it was important that I share some of his thoughts with you.
For an example, there is a young brother who is a well-known former newspaper sports columnist and now a television sports talk show personality, and author. He and I often disagree on some of his talking and writing points. I tried to explain to him that it is nothing personal when I disagree with him. It is all part of the territory when you make yourself an expert in all things American (all things sports, politics, race relations, economics, education, the dynamics of the inner-city, life and death, etc.) in a public forum. You will be challenged and it is then you will have to decide, friend or foe! And can you always pick up a phone and discuss your differences with a friend. Difference of opinions are not “Rocket Science.”
I have always said, “What makes me different from others who voice their expert opinions on our airwaves, in our newspapers and on the worldwide internet every day–I understand the different between Constructive Criticism and Destructive Criticism!” And therefore, I don’t think everyone who disagrees with me does not like me–of course there are a few exceptions.
The heat that I took on Inside Sports in the early 70s and the heat today’s sports talk show host are taking, there is no comparison. The reason, I was first in discussing racism on and off the field of play, first to play message music, first to write sports commentary, first to invite sports reporters on show to discus local and national sports teams and issues. Inside Sports was outside the lines and real sports long before ESPN and HBO.
This was Dr. Edwards’ response to several of my blogs as it relates to the criminal justice system, racism and police brutality in America.
He said “Harold, you got a good deal of the Ferguson, Baltimore, calls right. But you’ve got to frame the situation correctly and install it with the proper historical/ political dynamics. Otherwise, you end up in contradiction across the board. For example , just as your discourse stands , I’m glad that “Baltimore Mom’s” name wasn’t Adrian Peterson – the contradictions would have been far too stark for all of those cheering her actions and a media / governing apparatus controlled by the 1%, a leadership class so crass and desperate to quell righteous outrage that they would pitch Ray Lewis, George Foreman, and Charles Barkley as leaders and spokespersons in a struggle that is so serious, that has so much at stake that young Black men AND WOMEN are being buried – and I’m not just talking about those killed by White cops and vigilantes like George Zimmerman . The more than 5000 Black homicides and over half of those are Black suicides each year must also be counted in the mix if the dynamics of the Baltimores, Fergusons, etc. are properly factored in, framed and projected. Within this context, “Baltimore Mom” is as much a victim of developments as Freddie Gray. It is also the case that only within proper context can the labeling of desperate, marginalized, villainized, and dehumanized young people as “thugs” and “criminals” be fully understood. In the 1950’s and 1960’s it was White racists who talked confidently about “outside agitators” and who applied “criminal ” and other such labels to ” those people “. Now it is Black officials, from the Mayor right up to the President who have slipped so easily and thoughtlessly into the tack of covering gross, malignantly negligent economic, political, and moral failings of the American system and society with ” labels”- as if the young people cited are responsible for the conditions of their communities and absolutely wrong for their expressions of blind rage against their situation and outcomes. So in sum, I am all for condemning violent behavior, I am all for cheering on “Baltimore Mom” – AFTER THE POLITICAL /ECONOMIC / MORAL FRAMEWORK AND DYNAMICS THAT ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR CONDITIONS IN BALTIMORE HAVE BEEN ADMITTED AND RESPONSIBILITY ATTRIBUTED IN CLEAR AND UNEQUIVOCAL LANGUAGE. THEN let’s see where the negative labeling TRULY is appropriately applied – and I will guarantee you it will be the children who are labeled as anything other than victims.
I am not against athletes speaking out and speaking up on political issues- anyone who knows my history of sports activism knows that. What I am unalterably opposed to is uninformed, largely politically ignorant and obtuse people- athletes or any other category of privileged elites- presenting themselves as voices of political reason and strategic vision to masses of marginalized, dispossessed, left behind and left out people struggling EVERY DAY to survive in a system that does not even value their lives, much less care about their futures. So, by way of parallel example, everyone quite rightly scoffed and laughed when Dennis Rodman showed up on the arm of the North Korean dictator talking global politics. He was deemed a clown, a useful fool. So, now, without them saying a word- analytical, strategic, or even reflective- about the culpability and failure of a political-economic system that by calculated function and longstanding institutional design condemns MILLIONS of African-American men , women, and children to inter-generational desperation and hopelessness, everyone is supposed to accept , even applaud the words and actions of these athlete ” leaders” who categorically label entire segments of Black populations ” thugs ” and “criminals “- rather than the casualties and victims of the system that they are – when they act out in righteous rage against the forces oppressing them. Violence against people and property in these communities over the horrifically immoral conditions under which these people live is, of course, unacceptable – if for no other reason than the very practical concern that when they burn buildings, they are burning services and jobs in their own communities. But to simply cite the protests and violence perpetrated BY some among them without citing the institutionally, economically, and politically perpetrated violence against ALL of them is a crass and unforgivable fraud. And those who do so are little more than minions and sycophants of the system who offer neither vision nor constructive change- their message is “just keep quiet, just work harder, just be grateful – and who knows, maybe you will get lucky like me. In sum, far too often, too many of the athletes ( and others ) SENT out to calm the masses are ignorant, uninformed, and therefore acting as little more than stooges for a system driven to rely upon police authority and violent force to keep order among an ever more desperate population. And this is not a game.”
I have often said, “The most important Game being played in Black America today is The Game Called Life.” Dr. Edwards and I disagree but we don’t stop talking! It may be just a matter of him seeing the glass half-full and me seeing the glass half empty!