Dr. Pete Edwards ’83, ’84 MS, ’88 MD wasn’t looking for a spotlight. He’s much more comfortable outside it, repairing athletes’ injuries in an operating room or joking with patients in physical therapy. When, in a sports fairy tale come true, he became a co-owner of Columbus Crew SC earlier this year, he offered a master lesson in how a nice guy can be the center of attention and deflect it skillfully back on the community, soccer club and university he loves.
A sliver of sun peeks over the horizon as Dr. Pete Edwards makes his rounds. The new co-owner of Columbus Crew SC has agreed to meet the club’s hardcore fans at dawn the day of the season opener for a Champagne toast to a fresh era. Morning is an appropriate metaphor. A few months earlier, the team seemed destined to depart for another city, carried away by a previous owner’s wishes. Rebirth is cause to rejoice.
Edwards ’83, ’84 MS, ’88 MD apologizes for being a few minutes late to the gathering in the Mapfre Stadium parking lot. His usual entrances were locked, he says, prompting 15 minutes of driving in comedic circles. Finally, he called a fan who pointed him to a proper gate, where a worker requested the standard entrance fee. Edwards paid. He didn’t mention he owned the team. “That’s so endearing,” says Randi Leppla ’10, a longtime Crew supporter.
Nothing about Edwards begs attention. He blends into the crowd of about 50 fans, decked in jeans, running shoes, a simple brown jacket, and a black and gold Crew scarf. He’s here for people, not publicity. These are the supporters who spawned and fueled the #SaveTheCrew movement that mushroomed into worldwide attention and who plowed through an angst-ridden year with dogged determination. Their push propelled Edwards and his extended family to join forces with Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam to purchase the Major League Soccer franchise, thwarting plans to uproot the team for Austin, Texas. They overcame the odds in legendary fashion, and some mouths are agape still on this cold March morning. There is shared wonderment of their massive achievement as children kick a soccer ball in the lot, fire pits roar with breakfast, music blares and smiles beam like the rising sun.
“It’s good that you care, and you showed it by coming out,” Edwards tells one fan.
Edwards, 58, has made a living out of caring. He’s a partner and surgeon at Columbus-based Orthopedic One, a physician-owned orthopedic surgery practice. He also served as team doctor to the Crew for 23 years, since the club’s inaugural season of 1996, before giving up that role upon formally becoming club co-owner on January 1. What Edwards doesn’t care for is all the attention focused on him in his new public role. “Can’t you put one of the players on the cover of the magazine instead of me?” he asks.
Shyness isn’t the issue. Edwards is outgoing, gregarious even. He’d talk to a stone. He’d just prefer not to talk about himself, especially regarding the team’s salvation. He credits that accomplishment to a community effort — a mass movement confirming the power of his lifelong belief that everyone is better working together rather than apart.
“The idea starts with your family, then it comes from your community and Ohio State,” Edwards says, describing a personal evolution. “You’re always part of a group — that kind of flows through all aspects of you as you go along. Everything you do is built on relationships.”
“The idea starts with your family, then it comes from your community and Ohio State. You’re always part of a group — that kind of flows through all aspects of you as you go along. Everything you do is built on relationships.” Dr. Pete Edwards
Edwards is a self-described people person. He enjoys meeting strangers, is inherently trusting and thinks the best of everyone. No one ever told him Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Neither does he need or want a spotlight. Edwards is not a 21st-century selfie-snapper. He didn’t have a Twitter account until his daughter suggested the idea as a way to connect with fans. Even the often cynical, mean-spirited and judgmental world of social media hasn’t restrained him from summing up his philosophy this way: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Yes, he’s sliced from a simpler time.
“Pete seems to come as close to being from Mayberry as you could be, but he really is like Sheriff Andy,” says Alex Fischer, an Ohio State trustee who spearheaded the movement to save the Crew in his role as president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership.
Empathy is at the core of how Edwards practices medicine, too. His default mode in recommending treatment to a parent of a patient: What if this were my child?
“He can make anybody feel valued, heard and cared about,” says his daughter Caroline Edwards ’17, a first-grade teacher in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Pete is so down to earth, so rooted,” says Dwight Burgess ’91, a Crew broadcaster for all 24 of the club’s seasons. “He’s very, very comfortable in his own skin, but he never assumes that anybody knows who he is. People connect with him because he’s genuine.”
Connection played a pivotal role in saving Crew SC. Five days after news leaked in October 2017 that the team was considering relocation, fans organized the first #SaveTheCrew rally in Columbus. Edwards’ daughter Alison persuaded him to attend with her. They joined 2,000 people in front of City Hall, where signs, songs and speeches filled that blue-sky Sunday afternoon.
“I could feel the energy and the passion of the fans,” Edwards says. “There was a little bit of an awakening for me. That was probably the start of it.”
Eighteen months later, Edwards stands among some of those same fans outside Mapfre Stadium on a chilly, dream-like morning. Together, they hold Champagne flutes high.
“It means everything in the world to know that Dr. Pete is just as passionate about this team as we are,” says Chris Walker ’10, a longtime Crew season-ticket holder. “When you think of a team owner, you think of someone who is completely inaccessible. But with Dr. Pete, it’s like you’re just talking to another fan. He feels like someone who knows me.”
Edwards considers himself no different. He is a fan, calls himself a steward of the club and offers a simple reason for meeting other fans at dawn.
“I’m here because they asked me to come out,” he says. “It’s important to them. It’s what it’s about: people caring.”
‘The collective good is a real thing’
Two high school athletes, each rehabilitating from knee surgery, boot a soccer ball to each other on the artificial turf inside Orthopedic One’s physical therapy clinic. A nearby observer, white coat covering surgical scrubs, can’t contain his excitement.
“There you go,” Edwards says. “Extra points for using other parts of your feet. Come on, you’ve got to step up.”
Edwards isn’t required to be in this room, but he finds value in being present. Patients sense teamwork in seeing him alongside physical therapists. Everyone communicates, and they share laughter, too. Edwards bestows good-natured nicknames on his patients — more than half are under the age of 21 — such as “Trouble,” “Green Eggs and Sam” and “BFG (Big Friendly Giant).” Monikers suggest uniformity, helping the eight high school and college athletes believe they’re working as one.
“Part of recovery is not getting depressed during your rehab,” says Edwards, who specializes in arthroscopic knee surgery and treating lower-body sports injuries. “When you’re with other patients, you’re bonding and coaching each other. It’s a team mentality. They miss this from not being on the team.”
Edwards was always on sports teams while growing up in Upper Arlington, Ohio, and he played varsity tennis at Vanderbilt University. Injuries ended his playing career but sparked an interest in medicine, leading him to transfer to Ohio State. He buried himself in schoolwork and took comfort in being back home, where his bedrock beliefs were kindled by his father, Peter Edwards Sr. ’55, and mother, Suzanne Williams Edwards ’59. They preached and practiced empathy. Edwards recalls his father giving $100 to a stranger as incentive to stop smoking. (The person later mailed the money back, having failed to kick the habit.) He says his mother’s daily goal is to make someone else’s life better. She leaves fresh juice and fruit — along with a note — on his family’s back porch when they’re due home from a trip.
The idea was you must act, you must do something. It’s not just what you say or donate — you need to go do it. You need to put your heart into something. Caroline Edwards
“When you grow up in a tight, loving family, it shapes your worldview,” Edwards says. “It gives you a perspective that life is not all about you, and instead there are bigger things at work, and that the collective good is a real thing.”
Edwards and his wife, Christine, reinforced compassionate action in their own three daughters and son. “My parents raised us with the idea that you just do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do,” Caroline Edwards says. “They emphasized that you need to do something that impacts the world in a positive way, in whatever capacity you can.”
On the tennis court, Edwards attacked with a serve-and-volley style. He’s not one to be passive in life, either, if a cause feels right and stirs his heart. Once, at a concert with his children, he stumbled on a charity table enlisting aid for children in Africa. Let’s do it, he proclaimed. Edwards volunteered his family to sponsor a toddler named Eli, and for years they made donations and exchanged letters and photos. That didn’t feel like enough to Pete and Christine, so they took their family overseas to Rwanda to spend nearly two weeks with Eli, then 15 years old, and his family in their village.
“The idea was you must act, you must do something,” Caroline Edwards says. “It’s not just what you say or donate — you need to go do it. You need to put your heart into something.”
The same thought gnawed at her father as weeks passed in 2018 and the Crew’s relocation to Austin seemed certain. Finally, in July, Edwards approached his parents, two brothers and sister about buying the team. Pete Edwards Sr. owns the Edwards Companies, which develop real estate throughout Columbus (including off-campus student housing near Ohio State) and the country. His children have their own successful businesses. Long practitioners of quiet philanthropy, the family members immediately agreed that buying the Crew was a worthy cause. With his extended family on board, Edwards met the Haslams in September. Three months later, the families purchased Columbus Crew SC from Anthony Precourt for $150 million, with plans to spend $230 million on a new stadium less than a mile west of Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL’s Blue Jackets. Construction could start as early as this summer for an intended opening for the 2021 season. The Haslams are majority owners; Edwards declined to disclose the exact percentage his family owns. The total deal is worth $645 million, including plans to reimagine Mapfre Stadium into a public sports complex and practice facility for the team.
“We don’t want to be made out to be heroes,” says Pete Edwards Sr. “We only did this because we could do it, and it was good for the city. We felt it was the right thing to do. I think it has brought Columbus more together. I sense it.”
His son had a keen sense of what Crew SC meant to the Columbus community from meeting so many fans at rallies this past year. Edwards felt collective pain and also felt it in individuals. He’s performed an estimated 20,000 knee surgeries, yet he understands that the people who underwent those operations all have their own circumstances, needs and worries. Each must be heard and understood, so he gives patients his cell number in case they need him during off-hours. “I would call him from Europe,” says Tervel Dlagnev, an Ohio State assistant wrestling coach whose knee Edwards treated before Dlagnev competed in the 2016 Olympics. “He was always available.”
Personal connections play out as Edwards jokes around with “Super Taco” and “42” in the physical therapy room at Orthopedic One. With each nickname, he rattles off the patient’s actual name, hometown, school and other details. In turn, they know him as more than their doctor.
“He’s basically a father figure to me,” says Abby Luhring, an Ohio State junior rehabbing from surgery to correct chronic knee trouble aggravated by high school sports. “He’s always up front. He’s never once given me false hope, and I appreciate that. And he didn’t even tell me he bought the Crew. A friend tagged me on Facebook and said, ‘Isn’t this your doctor?’”
Nearby, Edwards cajoles another patient working out on the treadmill.
“This is who he is,” says Geoff Omiatek, ’00, ’07 MS, director of physical therapy at Orthopedic One. “This is his passion. Everyone talks to him. He interacts with everybody, and it’s sincere. What he did with the Crew is no different than what he does every day here. He sees a problem and tries to make it better.”
‘We’re feeding off his energy’
An air of gravitas hangs inside a theater at Gateway Film Center, where a hushed crowd of about 50 waits. Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith, one of the most powerful people in collegiate sports, sits in a leather chair on stage next to Ann Fisher, host of WOSU Radio public-affairs program “All Sides.” On her other side sits Edwards, looking sharp in slacks and a sport coat.
The John Glenn College of Public Affairs invited Edwards to participate in this panel discussion about the complex relationship between sports and society. Just a few months ago, an event like this would have been foreign to Edwards, but he’s happy to oblige.
He finds a moment in the hour-long program to remind Crew fans in attendance that they — not he — saved their team. “No one person did it,” Edwards tells the audience. “The Save the Crew movement did it. All parts of the city came together and created a really, really special thing. It showed that we can rally around something that we really value, that our core beliefs are something that we can act on, and that we can do things as a community that we didn’t think we could do. It’s a wonderful message for Columbus, and it’s something the city should be proud of forever.”
Jay La Prete
Being near campus brings back good memories for Edwards. He met his wife at Ohio State, the alma mater of their parents. Her father taught in the College of Dentistry, and one day she left her purse in a lecture hall after one of his presentations. Pete was there, found the purse and returned it to Christine. Soon they were meeting regularly for lunch on campus, always under the same huge oak tree. The tree is no longer there. Such is life. “Things change,” Edwards says.
Change means speaking to crowds, doing TV, radio and newspaper interviews, posing for magazine covers. Requests keep coming. “It’s way outside his comfort zone,” Burgess says.
Edwards doesn’t complain. He understands how important it is to be available to fans. They want to feel part of the club. He’s fostering that connection, not only with Crew supporters, but with his alma mater, too. “We’re actively building a bridge between the Crew and Ohio State,” Edwards says.
The Crew had already been collaborating with Ohio State and the Air Force on a biometric research project. Edwards also has met with Dr. Craig Kent, dean of the College of Medicine, to discuss additional opportunities, and he’s exploring partnerships with the Department of Athletics.
“We follow Ohio State’s lead in being an engaged citizen, engaged in the community,” Edwards says.
The work of building bridges means Edwards is no longer the team doctor, a job out of the public eye that he enjoyed and misses because he has less interaction with players and staff. Yet he says sacrificing those treasured bonds has been worthwhile because Columbus kept the Crew.
His role is different, but his impact is grand.
“It’s special to have Pete as an owner,” says Crew midfielder Wil Trapp. “His charisma and excitement, and how he’s stepped into his new role, is palpable. He’s just a wonderful advocate. We’re feeding off his energy.”
Strengthening the bond between Columbus and Ohio State
President and CEO, Columbus Partnership
Ohio State Board of Trustees member
Photo by EclipseCorp, courtesy of Columbus Partnership
Keeping Columbus Crew SC from leaving was important to the city, but also important to Ohio State. My efforts in the negotiations were clearly a part of my job as president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, but I am also an Ohio State Board of Trustees member. I’m passionate about this great university and its role in the community. There wasn’t an official role for the university to play in saving the Crew, but Ohio State and Columbus are inextricably linked with each other.
Ohio State creates a great identity for the city, and professional sports is another way to create identity. Soccer is the millennial sport, a professional sport you see in vibrant, eclectic cities that are on the move. Those cities are almost all college towns. They are thriving, fast-growing cities, because in today’s economic world it’s all about talent. Universities are the pipeline for that talent. That talent stays in cities that are cool, fun, welcoming, open and smart — all of the things we talk about Columbus being. Soccer is a piece of that. Saving the Crew was very important to Ohio State because the university is tied to the city’s future. Students are the core of that relationship, and students are connected to soccer.
Ohio State impacts everything this community is involved in. Columbus leverages the talent of alumni, faculty, staff, students and students’ parents. Those connections are vibrant. They manifested in a really big and important way for the Crew because the university had alumni association president and CEO Jim Smith, a staff member who had some really unique expertise from having previously served as the club’s president and general manager. Jim was key to helping us. This was another really powerful example of how having a big university in your community can have a huge impact, because you have all these talented people who have all these relationships, knowledge and experiences. This happens all the time in this community. The relationship between Ohio State and Columbus has always been good, but now we’re at a high point. We have to look for more opportunities to cultivate the city and university’s linkages. — As told to Todd Jones
Ohio State Day at the Crew
Cheer on the Crew with fellow Buckeyes as the team takes on the Seattle Sounders at 7:30 p.m. July 6.