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Sat, 10.18.1969

The ‘Black 14’ Episode Occurs

11 of Wyoming
football’s Black 14

*On this date in 1969, the 'Black 14' episode occurred.  This racial incident began when white Wyoming University head coach Lloyd Eaton dismissed 14 Black football players from the team. 

At the previous year's win over BYU at Provo, the Wyoming Black players were subjected to racial epithets. They asked Eaton if they could wear black armbands during the upcoming home game against BYU.  A week before the game, the team's Black members were reminded of the incident by Willie Black, leader of The university’s Black Student Alliance, and informed about the racial policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which owns and operates BYU, and which at that time excluded Blacks from the priesthood of the LDS Church).  

Willie Black challenged them to do something about it.  The day before the game, the players wore black armbands on their regular clothes and went to Eaton's office to discuss how they might show solidarity with the BSA protest. The coach immediately dismissed them from the team after seeing them with the armbands. 

According to Joe Williams, a team co-captain before he was suspended from the team, "We wanted to see if we could wear black armbands in the game, or black socks or black X's on our helmets. And if he had said no, we had already agreed that we would be willing to protest with nothing but our black skins."  Eaton took them to the bleachers in Memorial Fieldhouse and said he listened to their suggestions for ten minutes before deciding to release them. Williams gives a different account: "He [Eaton] came in, sneered at us, and yelled that we were off the squad. He said our very presence defied him. He said he has had some good Neeegro boys. Just like that." Defensive end Tony McGee said that Eaton "said we could go to Grambling State or Morgan State... We could go back to colored relief. If anyone said anything, he told us to shut up. We were really protesting policies we thought were racist." John Griffin, a flanker, corroborates McGee's memory.

Tony Gibson agreed with the other players that Eaton kicked them off the team before they could even present a case. At the time, Wyoming fans, much of the state-backed Eaton, and his "no protesting" policy saw the Black 14 as insubordinate and ungrateful.  

The 1969 Wyoming football team represented the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and played home games on campus at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.  The Cowboys were three-time defending conference champions and outscored their opponents 242 to 118. Wyoming won its first six games but dropped the last four in a season tainted by racial dismissal.  At San Jose State University, the Spartans were petitioned in a letter by a UW student group to boycott the homecoming game in Laramie; San Jose voted to play the game and wear multicolored armbands in support of the 14. 

Groups at other WAC schools demanded that Wyoming be dropped from their schedules.  At the time of the incident in mid-October, the Cowboys were undefeated (4–0) and ranked 16th in the AP poll. Even though they beat BYU 40–7 and San Jose State (the next game) without the players to improve to 6–0, Wyoming lost all four road games in November and went 1–9 the next year, which prompted Eaton's removal as a coach. However, he stayed on as assistant athletic director. 

The program had only one winning season in the 1970s 1976, under Fred Akers, who then returned to the University of Texas. The 'Black 14' included Earl Lee, John Griffin, Willie Hysaw, Don Meadows, Ivie Moore, Tony Gibson, Jerome Berry, Joe Williams, Mel Hamilton, Jim Issac, Tony McGee, Ted Williams, Lionel Grimes, and Ron Hill. Three underclassmen returned to play in 1970: Griffin, Meadows, and Ted Williams. McGee transferred to Bishop College in Dallas, Texas, was a third-round selection in the 1971 NFL Draft, and played fourteen seasons for three NFL teams.  The Black 14 incident spurred the court case Williams v. Eaton, with the issue of free speech against the separation of church and state. Litigation was lengthy for this case and ended on October 31, 1972.  

In 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Black 14 being dismissed, the University of Wyoming invited the surviving players back and made several amends. The eight returning players were invited to speak to history classes and meet with student-athletes, attend a special dinner with university officials, receive an official apology letter signed by President Laurie Nichols, and were given Wyoming football jerseys and Wyoming letterman jackets.  

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