“It was a time for me to take a stand, and I took it. At all costs.” Guillermo Hysaw, former University Wyoming flanker for the school’s storied football team, reflects on a moment when his life—and those of his teammates—irrevocably changed.
Sunday’s SC Featured segment of ESPN’s Sportscenter highlights the story of “The Black 14,” a group of University of Wyoming student-athletes who were released from the school’s Cowboys football team for attempting to protect their civil rights. Though their story is not often told, it’s the beginning of the sports activism movement seen today, which includes Colin Kaepernick’s fight and subsequent blackballing from football.
On October 17, 1969, The Black 14 asked Cowboys’ coach Lloyd Eaton if they’d be allowed to wear black armbands to protest the discrimination seen on Brigham Young University’s campus. BYU was already the target of boycotts for denying priesthood to African Americans and discouraging African Americans from attending the university. Wyoming’s Black players had to endure racist slurs and cheap shots every time they played on the campus. Eaton quickly dismissed the students from the football team with no room for discussion. He then berated them, saying that they were released to go on “Negro leave,” and that taxpayers would now save money since they were all on scholarships. The students were booted for simply asking a question, as they took no action to protest before speaking with Eaton.
Coach Eaton probably thought his move would be quietly swept under the rug, but it became national news. Although The Black 14 wasn’t able to wear black armbands to protest BYU, players from opposing teams wore black armbands in solidarity whenever they took the Cowboys’ field. The move led to Eaton’s own downfall, as Wyoming’s football team crumbled and he was eventually ousted.
We’d love to say that the members of The Black 14 were able to move past the unnecessary punishment, but the team members explain that the stigma followed them into their professional careers and came up on job interviews.
Almost 50 years ago, a group of Wyoming football players risked everything by choosing to take a stand against racial discrimination. The risk cost them dearly, but it marks one of the first major strides in both student and sports activism.
Watch the entire Sportscenter segment, narrated by Jemele Hill, here.