BYU To Honor ‘Black 14’ Football Players They Launched The Wyoming Team In 1969

BYU directly confronts its past history in racing this weekend by honoring two members of the Black 14, the players started the Wyoming soccer team in 1969 because they considered wearing black armbands during a game with BYU to protest Saint-day’s past policy on race and priesthood.

John Griffin and Mel Hamilton will light a giant Y on the towering mountain above Cougar Stadium on Saturday night before hosting No. 19 BYU Wyoming in front of an ESPN national crowd in Provo, Utah.

The lighting of the letter Y before the football game – the largest gathering in the BYU community – is for the VIPs that the school wants to honor in a very public way. A pre-match party was held on the pitch in front of 60,000 fans.

Karl Hernandez, the school’s new Vice President for Affiliation, said the honor is one of the first initiatives of the new Affiliation Office at BYU. The Office of Affiliation and the new vice president position were two of the 26 recommendations to reduce bias issued by a panel that conducted a major on-campus study on diversity, equity, and belonging.

“We will have tens of thousands of our community who will be introduced to the Affiliation and Black 14 office Saturday night,” Hernandez said.

Late Wyoming coach Lloyd Eaton kicked Griffin, Hamilton and the rest of the players who later became known as the Black 14 out of 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 arm bands to protest against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints policy of preventing blacks from entering temples and receiving the priesthood.

This limitation was lifted by the 1978 revelation announced by church leaders.

Eaton dismissed the players before hearing their suggestion. The players were speechless. When they finally tried to speak, he silenced them repeatedly by yelling at them until they shut up, they said. Then he told them they should go to “Negro care”.

In the words of one player, Black 14 was black. Many Wyoming fans chose the coach over the players, wearing gold badges with Eaton written on it. The group was dismissed.

“It took me 10 years to get over the anger,” Griffin told Deseret News in 2020. “I finally realized it wasn’t good for me to feel that anger anymore. It was a tragedy, but all I can do is go on with my life and do my best.” In my power and not letting that hold me back. This has been my focus since the late 1970s until now.”

Griffin called the traumatic events of 1969 “ancient history” worthy of reconciliation in the present. Over the past two years, 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 fantastic,” Griffin said in 2020, when the collaboration began. This is an American story. Nobody wrote this 50 years ago, 10 years ago, 2 years ago. They can now. It is a touching story. It’s not spin. It’s real. It is in all of our hearts. If you die tomorrow, you have lived a full life. You were part of something much bigger than me.”

Hamilton was part of the first moments of reconciliation. Before a game in BYU-Wyoming in 2005, he was invited by the leader of the Laramie Church to speak in the same Saint Latter-day campus building where he had camped in 1969. Students of the Latter-day Saint Institute made black badges for the game.

The connections then built led to the joint effort to alleviate hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Hamilton called on Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, a former player for the BYU, NFL and current church general body, to seek help. Soon, food trucks began pouring into the hometown of Black 14 members in eight states.

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

Brigham Young University President Kevin Worthen told Deseret News this week that Black 14 created something positive “from difficult times for them and for us….”

“It’s very powerful to say, we can accomplish a lot for our communities to help them but also help heal the wounds you’ve felt in the past as we serve today,” Worthen said. “That’s a model of saying, let’s come together and work on something. Now this is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful ways of dealing with the past, by making the present and the future better, coming together to share those common goals we can have, and then I think You’re finding more and more in common like you’re doing it.”

The BYU Affiliation Office is designed around the messages of the last day leaders about the brotherhood and brotherhood of all people as children of a heavenly Father.

Worthen said Black 14 embodied that message.

“It’s a good example when people, acting in the spirit of recognizing the inherent value of other individuals and our ability to do good, begin to focus on that rather than some other way of dealing with past situations,” he said.

Two weeks after Eaton was sent off for the Black 14, some San Jose State players wore black armbands in a game with BYU. The following year, Junior College defensive player Ron Knight broke the BYU football team’s color barrier. The proclamation of the priesthood followed in 1978.

The University of Wyoming officially apologized to Black 14 in 2019. The owner of Hamilton’s son became a saint in the last days years ago.

“I have never hated Latter-day Saints,” Hamilton said. “My job was… to speak frankly wherever I went to make it clear that we don’t hate people. We only wanted to change one policy. Thankfully, there was an announcement of another.”

Hamilton and Griffin are scheduled to participate in a question-and-answer session following the screening of a short documentary, “The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls,” on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Wilkinson Women’s Center at the Varsity Theatre. The film was created by students of journalism at Brigham Young University.

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