From Robinson to Kaepernick: The Evolution of Athlete Activism

Harry Edwards
James Brown
Wednesday, September 13, 2017 - 6:00pm
Harvard Basketball

Dr. Harry Edwards
Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
Author, The Revolt of the Black Athlete
James Brown
Host, The NFL Today on CBS Sports & Thursday Night Football, CBS Sports and NFL Network
Special Correspondent, CBS News
Harvard College ‘73

Dr. Harry Edwards, an esteemed professor and author, addressed the forum on athlete activism ranging from Jessie Owens to Jackie Robinson to Colin Kaepernick. Dr. Edwards spoke about what it means to be an activist in the twenty-first century and how the role of athlete activist has changed over the decades. Television host and Harvard graduate of ’73 James Brown moderated the forum.


Panelist Biographies

Dr. Harry Edwards was born in St. Louis but grew up in East Saint Louis, Illinois. After an outstanding athletic career at East St. Louis High, he graduated in 1960 and was awarded an athletic scholarship to San Jose State University from which he graduated in 1964 with high honors.  He subsequently was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a University Fellowship to Cornell University where he completed a M.A. and a Ph. D. in sociology.  He was professor of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley from 1970-2000.

The combination of his experiences as an athlete and his training in the discipline of sociology led Dr. Edwards to the conclusion that by the late 1960”s America had become complacent, even cynical about the issue of race in sports.  He ultimately advocated a Black athlete boycott of the 1968 Olympics among other protest efforts to dramatize the racial inequities and barriers confronting Blacks in sport and society.

Years later, Dr. Edwards became a consultant on issues of diversity for all three major sports.  He was hired by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball in 1987 to help with efforts to increase front office representation of minorities and women in baseball.  He also was with the Golden State Warriors of the NBA from 1987 through 1995, specializing in player personnel counseling and programs.  The programs and methods he developed for dealing with issues and challenges facing professional football player personnel were adopted by the entire NFL in 1992.  The NFL also adopted the Minority Coaches Internship and Outreach Program that he developed with Coach Bill Walsh at the San Francisco Forty Niners in 1986.

Over his career, Dr. Edwards has persisted in efforts to compel the sports establishment to confront and to effectively address issues pertaining to diversity and equal opportunity within its ranks, particularly with regard to increasing the numbers of minority coaches and administrators on college campuses and in professional sports.  Edwards, a scholar-activist who became spokesperson for what amounted to a revolution in sports, is now considered the leading authority on developments at the interface of race, sport, and society and a pioneer in the development of the sociology of sport as a an academic discipline in America.

Harry has been a consultant with producers of sports related programs for numerous television and film productions in the United States and abroad. He has received dozens of awards and honors, including several honorary doctorate degrees.  He has written scores of articles and four books: The Struggle That Must BeSociology of SportsBlack Students, and The Revolt of the Black Athlete.

James Brown is the current host of “The NFL Today” on CBS, “Thursday Night Football” aired on CBS and NFL Network and "Inside The NFL" on Showtime.  A three-time Emmy Award-winning network broadcaster, Brown has hosted the Super Bowl eight times including Super Bowl 50 on CBS. In 2010, SI.com named Brown the Best Studio Host of the Decade. Brown is also a Special Correspondent for CBS News and contributes to various programs such as “60 Minutes” and “CBS This Morning.”

Among his previous broadcasting roles were co-hosting of “Fox NFL Sunday,” working as a correspondent for “Real Sports” with Bryant Gumbel on HBO, and hosting a nationally syndicated radio show on Sporting News Radio.  In 2009, Brown wrote his first book and memoir, “Role of a Lifetime: Reflections on Faith, Family and Significant Living.” He is a co-founder and principal of the Brown Technology Group, a certified minority-owned and operated information technology company, and is a founding partner of the Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals. Brown is a partner with FullCircle Intermedia, a company that assists athletes and entertainers in developing their brand to ensure long-term success.

An ordained minister, Brown is no stranger to charitable works. He works on behalf of DC College Access Program (DCCAP) , The Ron & Joy Paul Kidney Center at George Washington University,
and The Salvation Army. Among numerous honors, Brown most recently received the 2016 Pete Rozelle Award Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which recognizes “longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football", and  “The Uncommon Award” from TONY DUNGYfor his “uncommon leadership through character and faith.”

Brown is a Washington, D.C., native and a 1973 graduate of Harvard University, where he was a three-time All-Ivy selection in basketball and captained the team as a senior.  He resides today in the Washington metropolitan area with his wife Dorothy.  His daughter Katrina and her husband John have blessed them with three granddaughters and one grandson.