Martez Edwards has broken his silence.
The embattled Meridian High School head football coach was placed on administrative leave with pay on May 6 after what appeared to be an inappropriate photo of him surfaced on social media.
Edwards, 39, admitted to having taken the photo but said he did so in late January and sent it only to a woman he was dating.
“This is a photo that was taken by myself that was given to a young lady I’m dating in Atlanta — we were in a long-distance relationship,” Edwards said. “It was a photo (where) I was actually admiring my weight loss. I had just happened to be freshly out of the shower, so I hadn’t put on clothes. I sent it to her — she’s the only person that received it. I’m not married, it’s a long-distance relationship. The picture, really, wasn’t of sexual nature. It was a weight-loss picture, and I had happened to not put on clothes.”
Edwards said he believes someone illegally obtained the photo from his cell phone and maliciously circulated it throughout the community.
“It was not intended for anybody else’s eyes,” Edwards said. “Somebody tapped into my personal device and violated my constitutional rights to privacy. They disseminated these things throughout the community, even on Facebook. And now, because of this, this crime that has been committed against me, I’m faced with fighting for my employment. I’m faced with fighting to be able to feed my children. I’m fighting for my name — I’m fighting for my career.”
Edwards said he and his attorney were present at a May 28 hearing with the district’s hearing officer and its attorney, John Compton, regarding Edwards’ future at the school. Edwards and his attorney presented materials pertaining to the case at the meeting.
“During the hearing, it was proven that this picture was not sent to anyone outside of the girl that I’m dating in Atlanta,” Edwards said. “It was never sent to any parent, student or teacher in the city of Meridian. And it was facts.”
Compton declined to discuss the specifics of Edwards’ case but confirmed the meeting with Edwards and said his was one of two termination hearings the district had last month.
“He has had his termination hearing that he’s afforded by statute, and the board has not met to make its (final) decision,” Compton said.
According to Edwards, the school board will move forward with a full review and has 30 days to reconvene and share its findings and offer a resolution. Edwards will have a chance to appeal the board’s decision.
Edwards, who was hired on Jan. 28, replaced former Meridian head coach Calvin Hampton. For the 91 days from Feb. 11 to June 30, he was scheduled to be paid $44,000, according to his contract with the district.
On May 6, the district released the following statement after the alleged photo of Edwards surfaced on social media.
“The Meridian Public School District is aware of the inappropriate photo circulating of an MPSD employee. The employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by the school district.”
Sources within the Wildcats’ football program confirmed the employee was Edwards.
Edwards said he’s positively impacted his players lives off the field during the last three-and-a-half months as Meridian’s head coach.
“I’ve coached over the last 17 years and have sent over 100 guys to college,” Edwards said. “I’ve had 100-percent graduation rate with all of my teams as a head coach over the last eight years. I have several players who are playing collegiate football and in the National Football League. Even being here in Meridian, I have changed the culture here. We have increased the practice attendance at Meridian from 35, 40 guys, to well over 100 during the time I was here. And now that I’ve been on administrative leave, those numbers have dwindled back down into the 30s and the 40s.”
Former Meridian assistant coach Jarvis Cole, who was on the football staff through spring practice, said the team took 81 players to the Wildcats’ spring game against Colquitt County High School (Georgia) last month. Team trainer Chad Acton said he didn’t know the exact number of players who dressed for the spring game but said it was between 75 and 81.
Edwards, a father of three, said his life has been left hanging in the balance since being placed on administrative leave.
“I’ve worked hard to make sure our kids value what they do in the community: community service, reading to the children, helping and motivating the elementary kids with state testing,” he said. “Doing all of the things that are right, and (that) I’ve done my entire career. But now, because someone committed a crime to me, I’m faced with sitting to wait to see if our school board does the right thing and allows me to keep my employment here at Meridian.”
He hopes the board returns with a favorable determination.
“I really hope the school board makes the right decision and allows me to remain the football coach at Meridian High School,” Edwards said.
Drew Kerekes contributed to this report.