- The Revolt of the Black Athlete: 50th Anniversary Edition by Harry Edwards
The publishing of the fiftieth anniversary edition of Harry Edwards's The Revolt of the Black Athlete could not come at a better time. Beyond the fact that the original edition is nearly fifty years old—the anniversary marks the beginning of black college athletes' revolt at San Jose State—with many copies falling apart, mine included, the release of this book provides necessary historical context to a new era of sports that some pundits have dubbed, "The Revolt of the Black Athlete, Part 2." With growing conversations about athlete activism, including Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, it is easy to understand why pundits draw comparisons. The Revolt of the Black Athlete reveals that the same problems that plagued black athletes fifty years ago remain today.
In his new introduction and afterword for this volume, which bookend the original text, Edwards lends his powerful prose to draw parallels between today's black athlete and those from the late 1960s. Specifically, he links the 2015 proposed boycott of black University of Missouri football players—in which they threatened to withhold their services [End Page 248] if the school did not heed to the demands of black students on campus who wanted the removal of the university president—with a protest he led at San Jose State in 1967, in which black students and athletes used a proposed boycott of a football game to force the school president to accommodate their complaints. Due to fears of a riot, San Jose State went as far as cancelling its scheduled game against the University of Texas at El Paso. In both incidences, using sports as a lever to create social change worked. The protest at San Jose State, as Edwards detailed in the original text, led to nearly thirty-seven more black athlete-led protests on college campuses from 1967 through 1969. Clearly, black athletes were no longer going to "shut up and play."
Most important, the success of the San Jose protest led to the creation of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), which famously threatened to boycott the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. As a leader of the movement, Edwards nails down the uprising to the everyday racism black athletes like sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos experienced. Their sports-related grievances ranged from racial stacking in sports, racially insensitive coaches, racial discrimination on campus, and prohibitions from coaches from black athletes dating white women. These complaints, coupled with continued racial oppression in society and the government's treatment of Muhammad Ali, pushed these athletes to threaten revolt against the system.
To be sure, The Revolt of the Black Athlete is not an academic book. Edwards gives his unadulterated opinions about the connections between racism, sports, and society. He has tons of examples but rarely cites sources. But Edwards's reputation as a leader in the activist athlete movement and his status as a scholar give his powerful words the authority they need to substantiate his claims. His words force the reader to wrestle with the role racism plays in sports and society. If one is looking for more scholarship, recent works like Amy Bass's Not the Triumph but the Struggle (2004) and Douglas Hartmann's Race, Culture, and the Revolt of the Black Athlete (2003) give more historical background to the protests.
But the reader is still left wanting more. Edwards, then and now, rarely discusses black women. In the introduction to the fiftieth anniversary edition, he admits to the mistake of not including black women in the protest but also hides behind the misogyny of the freedom movements of that era to escape full responsibility. Indeed, women were pushed to the background during the civil rights movement. In addition, as he notes, most of the black women athletes trained and went to school in the South, whereas the OPHR took place in the West. But he still could have included black women more...