School apologizes for kicking off team members who wanted to wear black armbands in a game against Brigham Young University
By Frederick H. Lowe
The University of Wyoming has installed a plaque honoring 14 African American football players 50 years after they were kicked off the team not for smoking, drinking, smoking pot, or assaulting coeds, but for wanting to ask about wearing black armbands in protest during an upcoming game against Brigham Young University.
The players, later known as the Black 14, wanted to ask Lloyd Eaton, University of Wyoming head football coach if they could wear black arm bans during the team’s 1969 game with Brigham Young to protest the racist beliefs of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, owner of Brigham Young University.
The players didn’t get a chance to pose the question. They wore the black armbands to a meeting with Eaton. He exploded in anger.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]Eaton insulted the players, charging that they all came from fatherless homes and that they were lucky to be recruited by a major white university instead of a small black college. In federal court, Eaton testified the players should think about going to Morgan State or Grambling.[/su_pullquote]
I was a student at the University of Washington around that period, and there were demonstrations on campus–some large others small– protesting the belief that blacks couldn’t enter the priesthood because of our skin color.
The protestors demanded that the University of Washington not play Brigham Young. The Mormon Church has since outwardly changed its views about African Americans.
The events of the day were part of a turbulent period for black athletes who had high profiles in a country that often ignores or vilifies black men.
A year earlier, John Carlos and Tommy Smith gave clenched fist salutes during the medal ceremony during the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City to protest police brutality. As they walked off the track, the crowd booed loudly.
Years earlier, heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam. White sportswriters universally condemned him.
Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, had been ostracized by the National Football League, for taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.
The Black 14: Jerry Berry, Tony Gibson, John Griffan, Lionel Grimes, Mel Hamilton, Ron Hill, Willie Hyshaw, Jim Issac, Earl Lee, Don Meadows, Tony Magee, Ivie Moore, Joe Williams and Ted Williams were stripped of the football scholarships and kicked off campus.
Some of them were psychically damaged as result of the experience.
Grimes said the episode repeatedly came up during job interviews, and he wondered how many job opportunities he missed because of it. The anger has taken years to overcome, he explained.
Following their dismissal on October 17, 1969, the Wyoming Cowboys, now an all-white team, defeated all-white BYU 40-7.
Fans on both sides of the stadium chanted, “We love Eaton.” After the game, Eaton said, “The victory was the most satisfying one I’ve ever had in coaching.”
But that was a high point. The team under Eaton went on a losing streak, and he was demoted.
The University of Wyoming has issued to formal apology to the Black 14 Friday.
“We are thrilled to welcome the members back to campus to honor them during this 50th commemoration,” said Tom Burman, the University of Wyoming’s athletic director, said in a statement. “We believe this event serves multiple purposes: education, healing and learning how to move forward effectively as we support our current students and celebrate our alumni community.”