The news that African American football players at the University of Missouri threatened not to play a football game against Brigham Young reminded some Wyoming players of the time they got kicked off of their team prior to a game with BYU. In Wyoming lore, they are known as the Black 14.
It was 1969 and the unbeaten Wyoming Cowboys were ranked 12th in the nation. Wyoming was a national power at the time having played in the Sugar Bowl the year before. BYU is owned and operated by the Mormon Church and at the time had policies that discriminated against African Americans. Other schools had protested against them and Wyoming players want to do the same. The Cowboys African American players had hoped to wear black arm bands that Saturday against BYU. Former player Mel Hamilton thought it was the right thing to do.
“That it was time for us to make a move and make a decision, that it was time to help the cause.”
Head Coach Lloyd Eaton reportedly told tri-captain Joe Williams, an African American, not to get involved in a protest. Later Williams and the other players went to his office to discuss it wearing arm bands. Guillermo Hysaw says Williams spoke to Eaton alone and it didn’t go well.
“When Eaton called us into the Field House he came our fiery and very agitated. We didn’t get to say a word. He never heard what we wanted to do, what our idea was, there was no options offered, there was no dialogue with Coach Eaton or his staff period.”
Hysaw says the Coach was also demeaning.
“He said most of you come from split homes and broken families and don’t know who your father is. I’m the only father that most of you will ever know and you defied me by wearing these black arm bands. Why don’t you go to Grambling or Morgan State where it might be tolerated, but it won’t be tolerated here.”
That’s when he kicked all 14 off the team.
Mel Hamilton says what struck him about Missouri is that the coach backed the players and there was communication.
“The whole turning point there was the coaches backing and the white football players backing, as you know we didn’t get, the 14 didn’t get any backing from our white players, so we didn’t have any leverage.”
Hysaw says many of the Wyoming white players would have supported the 14 had they known about the plans ahead of time. But he also points out that the African American players at Missouri had a lot going for them.
“But when 68 percent of your football team is African American, what are you going to do? If they are saying we are going to walk out we are not gonna play and here’s the beauty of it…the white players said we are going with them. Now to me, that’s powerful. What’s the Coach gonna do and what can he do?”
Hysaw also notes that had Missouri not played…it would have had to pay a million dollars to BYU. So he says the issue had more to do with money.
Hamilton admits that the Missouri protest made Hamilton think back to that day in Laramie.
“I was angry that we at the time in Wyoming did not get that kind of support and if we had things would have been different for many, many people’s lives and a lot easier for a lot of us.”
Including Coach Lloyd Eaton who saw his team win only one game the following year and stepped down. He never coached again and the football team was never the same.
The incident left a scar on both of the players. Hysaw rarely talks about it and won’t watch Wyoming on television. Hamilton says he’s tried to forgive.
“I’m not as angry anymore, of course, there is a little bit of bad taste in my mouth and I wish someday that will be over with, I’m still struggling with it, I’m trying in my late age I’m trying to forgive. But I’ll be frank with you, it’s very hard to do."