Edwards spot on with new book

sports@macon.comApril 21, 2014 

Lonzy Edwards has an impressive resume.

The Duke Law School graduate has practiced the profession in Macon for almost four decades. He holds a degree from Yale Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry from Emory’s Candler School of Theology and has been the pastor at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church for 30 years. He also served as a Bibb County commissioner from 2007-13, and he is running for the Georgia House of Representatives District 143 seat currently held by James Beverly.

I don’t know how he had the time, but Edwards also has written five books. I have just recently completed reading a manuscript of his latest, entitled “Teams of Citizen-Athletes,” and in it he eloquently expresses many of his thoughts about what is wrong with the “student-athlete” concept in college athletics today.

Quoting from the book, “Many of the young people who are blessed with athletic ability to play a sport well enough to earn a scholarship are neither good students nor good citizens. While the people who enter our colleges and universities should be both, if given a choice, citizenship should trump the phony pretense that the athlete is a student first.”

Further, Edwards states, “There is ample evidence that when it comes to academic performance, many athletes fail to measure up to school requirements. Similarly, there is ‘proof positive’ of anti-social conduct which shows that as a group, many athletes do not meet society’s standards of conduct. The standards of conduct applied to other students are often wrongly relaxed for athletes. Keeping them eligible in order to help their teams win is still the name of the game.”

The book should be required reading for NCAA president Mark Emmert and his honchos in Indianapolis, because Edwards has some logical solutions to the many problems facing intercollegiate athletics today. You can look for major changes coming to the NCAA, but I am not sure if those will address the issues that Edwards is concerned about.

Emmert, in his State of the NCAA address at the Final Four earlier this month, said, “It’s time to act on planned reforms.” That new structure would give schools in the power conferences a new level of autonomy.

When you look at academic and social problems in athletics today, more come out of the 65 or so power conference members than the remainder of the schools in Division I. Will the new reforms address these issues?

There is strong sentiment among the “big boys” that student-athletes should receive funds from the institution, and, sooner than later, you will see schools providing a stipend to their athletes. And we are following the unionization issues at Northwestern to see where that goes. Much has to be resolved on that front, including the questions of whether student-athletes are employees of the institution and whether they should get a W-2 form and be taxed on what they receive, as well as the possibility of filing for unemployment if cut from a team.

I think a poster program for what Edwards advocates would be the 2013-14 Mercer men’s basketball team. They have been successful as athletes, students and citizens. They experienced great success on the basketball floor, winning the A-Sun regular-season and tournament championships, and as an added bonus beat Duke in the NCAA tournament’s round of 64. They have excelled as students in the classroom, posting an overall 3.22 GPA in the fall semester, and all seven seniors on the team have already or will graduate.

As citizens during the past two years, they have performed more than 1,500 hours of community service, by choice and not as punishment for some indiscretion, ranging from serving as mentors for at-risk students to working with Habitat for Humanity.

Mercer plays in Division I along with the Georgias, North Carolinas, Penn States and Syracuses, but, as opposed to those schools, you won’t find athletes playing one season and heading to the pros. I am not saying it won’t ever happen, but as a rule you won’t find headlines citing academic fraud or criminal behavior, either. When it comes to athletics, schools like Mercer, Davidson, Wofford, Furman and Samford, which all want to win, put academics first and truly have student-athletes. You can take that a step further and call them “citizen student-athletes.”

Edwards’ publication is expected to hit the shelves of local stores within the next few weeks. He gives you a lot of food for thought, and I recommend it to you.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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