Syracuse University to honor ‘Syracuse 8’ on Oct. 20-21
Syracuse University to honor ‘Syracuse 8’ on Oct. 20-21October 18, 2006Sara Millersemortim@syr.edu
On Oct. 20-21, Syracuse University will welcome back to campus the group of former SU football players known as the “Syracuse 8” — African American alumni who in 1970 left the SU football team after their calls for greater equality and equal treatment were not honored. The weekend will mark the first time that the group has been officially recognized by Syracuse University for its courage and commitment.
In 1970, SU Chancellor John E. Corbally Jr. convened a commission to investigate and assess the situation. The commission’s 60-page report concluded that the players’ response to the racial injustices of the time, and their efforts to bring about change, were justified.
At a special ceremony Friday evening beginning at 5:30 p.m. in Lender Auditorium in the Whitman School of Management building, SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor will award these former Orange football players SU’s Chancellor’s Medal. On Saturday, at halftime of the SU-Louisville game, the group will be recognized and presented with their SU Letterman’s jackets, which they never received after leaving the team.
“These events will celebrate the courage and determination of the `Syracuse 8′ to stand up for their values and principles, even in the face of great personal sacrifice,” says Cantor. “These alumni are emblematic of the values we want for our students and for ourselves when we face critical issues of justice and equality. Their courage 36 years ago stands today as a beacon and lesson for all of us as we continue to strive for a more just university, community and society.”
“This is an awesome recognition of men who stood up for something they truly believed would make the world a better place,” says SU Director of Athletics Daryl Gross. “These are men who sacrificed playing the sport they loved to stimulate conversation and action that would create change and needed awareness. This is a celebration of their tremendous courage, commitment and bravery. This is about welcoming back our family and recognizing.”
Although mistakenly dubbed the “Syracuse 8” by media reports in 1970, the group included nine individuals. They are Gregory Allen ’72, Richard Bulls ’73, John Godbolt ’73, Dana Harrell ’71, G73, John Lobon 9’73, Clarence “Bucky” McGill ’72, A. Alif Muhammad ’71, Duane Walker ’80 and Ron Womack ’71.
In a collective attempt to invoke change and promote equality within the football program, nine players boycotted the 1970 football season until certain conditions were met. The student-athletes requested better medical care for injured players and stronger academic support for African American student-athletes; the right to compete fairly for any position on the starting team; and racial integration of the football coaching staff.
This list would seem strange to current student-athletes, as every item is taken for granted today. As talented scholarship athletes, the “Syracuse 8” were aware of their sacrifice and the potential consequences of their actions. Despite this risk the student-athletes demonstrated a perseverance to match their courage, and many went on to successful careers in business, government and education.
In 2005, several of the players returned to campus for a special panel discussion on the events surrounding the “Syracuse 8.” Following that event, alumnus Art Monk ’80 led an effort to create a special University committee to consider, and ultimately plan, a formal SU recognition and honoring of the group. Committee members included Monk, Gregory Allen ’72, Dave Bing ’66, Peter J. Estrada ’82, Daryl Gross, Carmen Harlow ’78, John L. Johnson, Floyd Little ’67, John Lobon ’73, Larry Martin, Angela Y. Robinson ’78, Diane M. Weathers ’71, Barry L. Wells and Roosevelt R. “Rick” Wright Jr. G’93.
Monk, Robinson and Weathers are among those participating in Friday’s medal ceremony.
In 1970, SU was a very different place. The campus was experiencing a level of political disturbance it had not known during its previous 100-year history. That spring, classes were canceled amid protests against expansion of the Vietnam War. Every aspect of campus life was affected — even intercollegiate sports.
“I don’t want to use the word `rebellion,’ but there was an element of change in the air,” McGill says. “I remember learning that more than 50 black student-athletes at schools across the country were put off sports teams for making statements of principle — in some cases, just for the way they were wearing their hair.”
That “element of change” inspired McGill and other SU players to assess the challenges they faced as athletes, students and African Americans, and to draw up a list of grievances. When their requests were not honored, the players made the painful choice to boycott spring practice and the 1970 SU football season.
Lobon, now a member of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, says, “We were trying to be recognized as individuals who could be — and should be — part of society. I think by speaking up as we did, we laid the groundwork for Syracuse to become one of the leading schools regarding the graduation of black athletes.”