Sunday, February 06, 2011

Raynard Jackson: Tony McGee and the Wyoming 14

By Raynard Jackson

With the beginning of Black History Month two days ago and the upcoming Super Bowl on Sunday, I thought I would bring you a story that has gotten very little attention, especially in the Washington, DC area.

In many ways, they were the “Rosa Parks” of the Pacific Northwest in the U.S.

College and professional athletes often get a bad rap for the way they behave, both on and off the field. A lot of the criticism is justified, but most athletes are model citizens and never get in any trouble. They go through life just like the rest of us.

Former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill once stated, “To every man, there comes a time when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a great and mighty work; unique to him and fitted to his talents; what a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the moment that could be his finest hour.”

On Oct. 17, 1969, Tony McGee and the Wyoming 14 received their tap on the shoulder.

That was the day all 14 Black players were kicked off the University of Wyoming’s football team by their coach– Lloyd Eaton.

This was all precipitated by Willie Black, head of the Black Student Alliance (BSA). Earlier in the week he had sent a letter to the school asking the university and other Western Athletic Conference (WAC) members not to schedule games with Brigham Young University (BYU) until the Mormon Church rescinded its racist policies towards Blacks (they were not allowed to become priests, strictly based on their race).

After the BSA meeting, Joe Williams (running back) had asked the coach if it would be OK for him and the other 13 Black players to wear a black armband during the upcoming Saturday game against BYU. The players also wanted to protest the usage of racial epithets by BYU during last year’s game. Williams was a tri-captain on the team. Eaton gave Williams an emphatic “NO,” claiming the action would violate a team rule prohibiting any type of demonstration. So, the players attempted to change the coach’s mind by going to meet with him in his office wearing their armbands. Eaton led them to the bleachers in the old fieldhouse, where he immediately dismissed them from the team.

According to McGee (defensive end), “He said we could go to Grambling State or Morgan State… We could go back to colored relief (welfare). If anyone said anything, he told us to shut up. We were really protesting policies we thought were racist. Maybe we should’ve been protesting there.”

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