BYU to honor 'Black 14' football players who started Wyoming team in 1969

BYU to honor ‘Black 14’ football players who started Wyoming team in 1969

BYU is directly confronting its past history on the race this weekend by honoring two members of the Black 14, players kicked off the 1969 Wyoming football team because they considered wearing black armbands during a game with BYU to protest a past Latter-day Saint policy on race and priesthood.

John Griffin and Mel Hamilton will solemnly light the huge Y on the mountain overlooking Cougar Stadium on Saturday night before Game 1. 19 BYU hosts Wyoming in front of a nationwide ESPN audience in Provo, Utah.

Lighting the Y before a football game — the largest of BYU’s community gatherings — is reserved for dignitaries the school wants to honor in a very public way. The pre-match ceremony took place on the pitch in front of 60,000 fans.

The tribute is one of the first initiatives of BYU’s new membership office, said Carl Hernandez, the school’s new vice president for membership. The Membership Office and the new position of vice president were two of 26 recommendations to reduce bias made by a committee that conducted a major campus study on diversity, equity and belonging.

“We will have tens of thousands of our community members introduced to the Membership Office and the Black 14 on Saturday night,” Hernandez said.

Late Wyoming coach Lloyd Eaton ejected Griffin, Hamilton and the rest of the players who later became known as the Black 14 from the team the day before their 1969 game with BYU in Laramie, Wyoming, when they went to his office to ask if he thought they should wear black armbands to protest against a policy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that prevented black people from entering temples and receive the priesthood.

This restriction was lifted by a 1978 revelation announced by church leaders.

Eaton fired the players before hearing their proposal. The players were speechless. When they finally tried to talk, he repeatedly silenced them, yelling at them to shut up, they said. Then he told them they should go on “negro welfare”.

According to one of the players, the Black 14s were blackballed. Many Wyoming fans chose the coach over the players, wearing gold bracelets with Eaton written on them. The group was ostracized.

“It took me 10 years to get over the anger,” Griffin told the Deseret News in 2020. “I finally realized it wasn’t healthy for me to harbor that anger any longer. It was a tragedy, but all I could do was get on with my life and do the best I could and not let it get in the way. That was my goal from the late 70s until now.”

Griffin called the painful events of 1969 “ancient history” that deserved reconciliation in the present. Over the past two years, the Black 14 and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have shown goodwill by working together to distribute 800,000 pounds of food to the hungry.

“It’s remarkable,” Griffin said in 2020 when the collaboration began. “It’s an American story. No one could have written this 50 years ago, 10 years ago, two years ago. Now they can. And it’s a touching story. It’s not spinning. It’s true. It’s in the hearts of all of us. If I die tomorrow, I will have lived a full life. I have been part of something that is much bigger than me.

Hamilton was part of the early moments of reconciliation. Before a BYU-Wyoming game in 2005, he was invited by a Laramie church leader to speak at the same Latter-day Saint campus building he picketed in 1969. institute of Latter-day Saints made black armbands for the game.

The connections made then led to the combined effort to alleviate hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Hamilton called Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, former BYU and NFL quarterback and current Authority Seventy general of the church, asking for help. Food trucks soon began arriving in the hometowns of Black 14 members in eight states.

“The Black 14 always wanted to get something useful out of the 1969 incident,” Hamilton told the Deseret News in 2020. “We didn’t want to take on a bitter, negative connotation. We wanted our legacy to be more than ‘a showdown. We wanted to do something to make our legacy look better by helping others.

BYU President Kevin Worthen told the Deseret News this week that the Black 14 created a positive “of what have been tough times for them and for us…”.

“It’s quite powerful to say that there is so much we can do for our communities to help them, but also to help heal the wounds that have been felt in the past as we serve today,” Worthen said. “It’s a model of saying, let’s come together and work on something. Now, in my mind, it’s one of the most powerful ways to deal with the past, improving the present and the future, improving coming together to share those common goals that we may have, and then I think you find more and more commonalities the more you do that.”

BYU’s membership office is designed around the messages of Latter-day Saint leaders about brotherhood and fellowship of all as children of a Heavenly Father.

Worthen said the Black 14 personified that message.

“This is a good example of when people, operating in a spirit of recognition of the inherent value of other individuals and our ability to do good, begin to focus on that rather than another way of dealing with people. past cases,” he said.

Two weeks after Eaton fired the Black 14, some San Jose State players wore black armbands during a game with BYU. The following year, Ron Knight, a junior college defensive back, broke the BYU football team’s color barrier. The revelation on the priesthood followed in 1978.

The University of Wyoming formally apologized to the Black 14 in 2019. Hamilton’s son, Malik, became a Latter-day Saint years ago.

“I never hated people of the Latter Day Saint religion,” Hamilton said. “It was one of my assignments to…speak everywhere I went to clarify that we don’t hate people. We just wanted a policy to change. And thank God there was a revelation that changed it. .

Hamilton and Griffin are due to take part in a Q&A after the premiere of a new short documentary titled “The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls” Friday at 7 p.m. at the University Theater at Wilkinson Student Center. The film was created by BYU journalism students.

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