University of Wyoming’s “Black 14” Honored 50 Years Later
In 1969, 14 members of the University of Wyoming football team were dismissed from the team after expressing their desire to make a statement about racism in an upcoming game against Brigham Young University. This week, 50 years after they were removed from the Cowboys, members of the Black 14 have been honored in a week-long event at their former University.
Thursday, September 12 marked the first event open to the public as members of the famous Black 14 participated in a discussion about the First Amendment and the impact of their dismissal 50 years previously. Members were also honored with the unveiling of a plaque in their honor at War Memorial Stadium on Friday, Sept. 13, and a ceremony at half-time during the Idaho vs. Wyoming game on Saturday.
The African-American athletes made a stand back in 1969 in which they asked for permission to wear black armbands during the BYU vs. UW game during the ’69 football season. Members of the Pokes Football team has been subjected to racial comments during the previous year’s game in which UW took the win against the (BYU) Cougars and were spurred on by the leader of the leader of the Wyoming Black Student’s Alliance. At the time, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had controversial racial policies, including exclusion of black members from priesthood.
Joe Williams, a team co-captain before his suspension from the team said, "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." Head coach Lloyd Eaton dismissed the players immediately from the team, kicking off a losing season, backlash against the University of Wyoming Athletic Department, and a lengthy legal battle about the freedom of speech.
UW Athletics hope to right the wrongs that happened 50 years ago by honoring the stand that was taken by the Black 14, many of which went on to have successful careers in post-collegiate athletics. “We are thrilled to welcome the members back to campus to honor them during this 50th commemoration,” UW Director of Athletics Tom Burman 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.”