Berkeley Social Sciences honors Dr. Harry Edwards with Inaugural Social Science for the Public Good Award

February 27, 2024

Social Sciences award

Berkeley Social Sciences recently honored Sociology Professor Emeritus Dr. Harry Edwards with its inaugural Social Science for the Public Good Award. The award recognizes Edwards' many contributions to better society such as creating the field of sociology of sports, advancing social justice, and mentoring and inspiring his students throughout his distinguished 30-year career at UC Berkeley.

He was presented with the award at the Cal Athletics Black History Month Celebration: Champions of Justice event, during which he and U.S. Olympians Dr. John Carlos + Dr. Tommie Smith also received other accolades for their contributions to improve society.

When presenting the award to him, Berkeley Social Sciences Dean Raka Ray, who was once his colleague in the Sociology department, said “his achievements range from influencing the iconic Black power salute by Smith and Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics; his work to establish the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which played a crucial role in challenging racism in sports; and his advocacy for a boycott of Apartheid South Africa.” She added that, “as professor in the Department of Sociology between 1970 and 2000, he taught thousands of students about the sociology of sports and race, which effectively led to his creation of the field of Sociology of Sports. He also advised the NBA, the NFL and Major League Baseball.”  

Edwards provided support and visibility to athletes facing discrimination, she said, as “exemplified by his arrangement of a personal encouragement video from Simone Biles for a heartbroken 8-year-old Black Irish gymnast, who was ignored during a medal ceremony. He used his keen sociological imagination and eye for justice to effect transformations in every sphere of sports.”

“It was my honor to present Dr. Harry Edwards with the Social Science for the Public Good Award of 2024,” Dean Ray said. “The award recognizes Dr. Edwards' tireless work to help his students; his profound insights into the dynamics between professional sports and race; his attention to gender as he warned about the fallout of Roe vs. Wade on women and girls in sports; his insistence that struggle not be divorced from strategic analysis and intellectual consideration — and for the overwhelming impact of his work and words on the world of sports and race relations beyond sports.”

Edwards recently reflected on his career, his students and the UC Berkeley community during an interview with Berkeley News

“I fell in love with every class that I ever taught at Berkeley. People say, ‘Well, you got 550 people in that class. You don't even know who's there.’ I fell in love with everyone,” he said.  “And there'd be this little entourage of 30 or 40 students following me the whole way back to the office: "Can I ask you one more question Dr. Edwards?" They just loved to ask me questions and hold the conversation. And when I look back at the experiences that I've had, the things that I've tried to do — not always successfully — but the contributions I've tried to make, I'm doing better than I deserve.”

The importance of the sociology of sports, he said during the Berkeley News interview, has expanded exponentially with the complexity of the challenges that sports is involved with today.

“I mean, we have officially embraced sports gambling at both the collegiate and the professional level,” Edwards said. “We have name, image and likeness money going to collegiate athletes. We have this conference-jumping, which is in pursuit mostly of money, and the impact that travel has. Psychologically, we already have a burgeoning issue in terms of mental challenges facing modern collegiate athletes because of the pressures of participation, practice and preparation. All of that makes the sociology of sport more germane and relevant today than it was in 1971, when I published my dissertation.”

In a tribute to Edwards' legacy, Dean Ray announced the renaming of the award to the Harry Edwards Social Science for the Public Good Award.