Nearly a year ago, I sent Harry Edwards an email with the subject line: An idea for your consideration, please.
Edwards rose to prominence during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, with his call for black athletes to boycott the Olympics, the inspiration for the black power salute at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City.
Now professor emeritus of sociology at Berkeley, Edwards has long been one of the strongest voices linking human rights to the exploitation of black athletes.
My email, sent June 9, 2016, read:
I’ve been thinking lately about all the states that have passed discriminatory laws aimed at stripping African Americans and others of basic rights: voting, social assistance, marriage, abortion etc.
And this had led me to the idea that black athletes should stop enriching and enabling state universities in these places – and go to more progressive states to play football, basketball and other sports.
Can’t think of a stronger means of taking on politicians seeking a return to the bad old days.
And, I’m writing to you because I can’t think of another person who might be in a better position to explore this kind of action.
Thanks for your time.
Expat American, retired journalist, writer, living in Canada
I came of age in the ’60s, when states in the Old Confederacy still barred the schoolhouse door to black students and colleges consequently fielded all-white teams. Federally ordered desegregation changed that.
Yet here in the 21st century, I was struck by the success of nearly all-black starting lineups on teams from state universities in the New Confederacy, solidly Republican and demonstrably racist.
When I wrote to Edwards, I imagined calls for a boycott, and a new generation of Freedom Riders going to the homes of the top – African American – high school athletes in Red States, persuading them to go to colleges in Blue States.
I wondered what would happen if Gomer and Bubba woke up one Saturday morning to discover their favorite teams fielding a roster of their slow, clumsy kinfolk? Would it force political change?
But the timing of my email to Edwards could not have been worse, as he noted in his reply:
I’m sorry that I am unable to respond substantively to your email at this time. I am attending the Memorial Service and associated events in Louisville, KY, honoring the Life and Contributions of Muhammad Ali …
That was five months before the U.S. election, before the Race Baiter in Chief moved into the White House, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III became Attorney General, and the GOP whitewashed the rest of Obama’s Washington.
I began sketching this story in January, when publicly funded schools in two of the most reactionary states – South Carolina’s Clemson and the University of Alabama – played for the second straight year in college football’s national championship game.
Once more, as is always the case from Tuscaloosa to Norman, Tallahassee to Topeka, all the star players on the field were black and all the well-heeled fans in the stands were white.
But the piece never came together. I wound up folding the idea into a paragraph of a blog posted April 1:
Want to crush the crackers in states that discriminate against poor people and minorities by legislating to limit voting rights, women’s rights, religious rights, gay rights, worker rights etc.? Organize campaigns to persuade top high school football and basketball players – from poor and minority families – to boycott state universities in places like South Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas.
I provided a link on Facebook and got a nice response from a former Canadian Press colleague, Lee-Anne Goodman: “Brilliant suggestion re: football and basketball stars boycotting certain colleges. That is something people would pay attention to … We need to make this a thing.”
Well, as far as I can tell, people were not paying attention and this is not a thing.
So, I now call on you, soldiers in The Resistance, to add this action to your “Resources for the Fight,” along with your attempts to swamp congressional offices with phone calls and emails.
You call yourself “a grassroots movement fighting against the hateful and authoritarian agenda of Donald Trump and the radical right.”
And, while the media have compared you to the Tea Party, remember that those folks mainly replaced right-wingers with right-wingnuts in Congress.
If you really want to stick it to the man, start organizing Freedom Rides to liberate young jocks from the servitude of college sports in the New Confederacy.