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SU to revisit history with frank discussion of 1970 football boycott
SU to revisit history with frank discussion of 1970 football boycottSeptember 07, 2005Carol K. Masiclatclkim@syr.edu
On Saturday, Sept. 17, Syracuse University will welcome back seven SU alumni to present a special panel discussion on an event that changed race relations and intercollegiate sports at the University forever-the football boycott of 1970. The discussion takes place at 9:30 a.m. in Shemin Auditorium in the Shaffer Art Building.
SU alumni Gregory Allen ’72; Dana Harrell ’71, G’73; John Lobon ’73; Clarence “Bucky” McGill ’72; A. Alif Muhammad ’71; Duane Walker ’80, and Ron Womack ’71 will return to campus to share their stories and participate in a panel discussion about their struggles as athletes, their decision to boycott and how it impacted their lives. The panel discussion is part of Coming Back Together 8, SU’s reunion weekend for its African American and Latino alumni. This event is open to the public.
In 1970, the University was a very different place. SU 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,” says McGill, a member of the SU football team at that time. “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 drawup a list of grievances to take to then-Coach Floyd “Ben” Schwartzwalder.
The athletes requested better medical care for injured players, stronger academic support to help athletes achieve in the classroom as well as on the field, the right to compete fairly for any position on the starting team and racial integration of the football coaching staff.
When their requests were not honored, the players responded by boycotting the football team. As scholarship athletes who were already NFL prospects, they were aware of the possible consequences of their actions. In the end, all of the boycotting players were denied the opportunity to play for the NFL. Despite this setback, each athlete demonstrated a perseverance to match their courage, and all went on to successful careers in business, government and education.
Why did they do it? “In my view, we were transitioning as a country and as a people, becoming more aware of our heritage,” Allen says. “I felt that the coach wanted to freeze the thought processes of the black football players somewhere in the 1950s. We were not going to let that happen.”
Lobon, who was recently appointed to 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. We were saying, ‘Look at me as I am, a human being, and let’s go forward from there.’ 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.”
Since the boycott, SU has evolved into an institution committed to diversity and inclusion. In 2005, SU has, for the first time, a female Chancellor and President, an African American athletics director and the most diverse first-year class in its history. While the University has come a long way, the story of these athlete activists remains relevant today. Saturday’s panel discussion aims to accomplish what is set forth in the vision of SU’s athletic department today: “Respect the past, represent the future.”
For more information on CBT 8, visit http://sumweb.syr.edu/progdev/CBT8/welcomepage.htm.