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ASU’s Herm Edwards on athletes’ right to strike: ‘This is America’

Arizona State coach Herm Edwards watches from the sideline during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Oregon State won 35-34. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

As basketball and some baseball teams Wednesday announced they were on strike, Arizona State football head coach Herm Edwards watched and thought about how the athletes were able to exercise their rights in way players of his era could not.

“I sat and went, this is America. This is the America that we talk about, that you have a right to stand up for what you believe,” he said to ESPN on Thursday morning.

“And you won’t be cut, you won’t be traded. Thirty years ago that was not the case. Players now know they have this wonderful platform. And they use it in a way to make change.”

This isn’t the first time Edwards has been a head coach when players wanted to stay off the field during a monumental event in the United States.

Edwards was the head coach of the New York Jets on Sept. 11, 2001.

The NFL was considering playing games the weekend following 9/11, Edwards said. He spoke to his players and said that if they did not want to play he would stand by their decision.

Jets players voted not to play, and Edwards told team management they would forfeit the upcoming game if the NFL decided not to postpone any.

“I’m going to stand with my players. If they feel that way, you have to do that. You gotta stand with your players,” he said. “If you truly say that you’re going to be a man of value and integrity, and you take the information in and you know the pulse of the team.”

The NFL did end up postponing the games on the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17.

On Wednesday, NBA teams did not wait for the league to make a decision. The Milwaukee Bucks, among favorites for an NBA title, boycotted their game against the Orlando Magic, who quickly followed suit. The four teams scheduled to play the other two games that evening and night followed their lead. Very shortly after reports came out that players would strike all three games, the league said the games would be postponed, which clarified there would be no forfeits.

This platform the players have is something they didn’t in the early 2000s. They didn’t when Edwards played in the 1970s and ’80s, and they didn’t when he grew up in the 1960s and 70s when there was civil unrest over the Vietnam War and the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.

That’s something he said he tells his players.

“Words and actions. Do they match up every day? … You don’t compromise your values. Stand up for what you believe,” he said.

“When this stuff started taking place, this social unrest and all these things, the first thing I told my players, I said, ‘Look. You have this wonderful platform now in today’s world. Make sure you use it in a way that you have solutions. And you cannot stand silent when you see things like this occurring.'”

The athletes’ presence on issues outside sports is now more broadly accepted, and people outside the African American community are joining in more vocally.

“What’s really good to see, you see people of all different walks of life in these protests,” Edwards said. “We’re tired. America’s tired.”


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