Black 14 player Lionel Grimes. (Mike Vanata)

The University of Wyoming apologized this weekend to 14 black athletes cut from the football team 50 years ago for wearing black armbands in protest of a racist Mormon church policy.

Then head coach Lloyd Eaton kicked the players off the team when they showed up at his office wearing the armbands on Oct. 17, 1969, one day before a game against Brigham Young University, according to an account on the website Wyo History, a project of the Wyoming State Historical Society. The players hoped to wear the armbands during the game to protest a then Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ policy banning black men from the priesthood. 

Tony McGee. (Mike Vanata)

The 14 former players sought to join black athletes at several other universities using their platforms as football players to draw attention to the now-obsolete policy, according to Wyo History. But Eaton warned players at UW against protesting. When the players tried to meet with the coach, Eaton kicked them off the team. 

Guillermo Hysaw. (Mike Vanata)

The UW Board of Trustees at the time backed Eaton. Fans at the subsequent BYU game, where the Black 14 players watched from the audience, chanted “we love Eaton,” according to the Wyo History account. Fans at a later football game wore “Eaton” armbands, the account said. The UW student senate, and the editorial board of the student newspaper the Branding Iron, however, supported the players.

John Griffin. (Mike Vanata)

“When it was over, I had more hurt feelings from how the Wyoming people reacted and the way I was treated than the whole thing with BYU,” Tony McGee, one of the dismissed players said in 2009, according to Wyo History. McGee went on to play professional football, and his career included two trips to the Super Bowl. 

Ron Hill. (Mike Vanata)

Last week, McGee and seven other of the surviving 11 players returned to UW. They were honored on the field at War Memorial Stadium during a halftime ceremony in a game against Idaho. The players received letterman jackets and wore UW football jerseys with their old numbers, according to a Casper Star-Tribune report. The former players’ trip to UW included breakfast with UW players and coaches, and a Friday night dinner where they received an apology letter signed by UW athletic director Tom Burman and former president Laurie Nichols. 

Ted Williams. (Mike Vanata)

The letter gave the players credit for developing the school’s mission statement. 

“We embrace the University’s mission of nurturing, ‘an environment that values and manifests diversity, internationalization, free expression, academic freedom, personal integrity and mutual respect,’” the letter said. “We believe that mission rose in part from your courage and sacrifice.” 

Tony Gibson. (Mike Vanata)

The university also unveiled a plaque at War Memorial Stadium that honors the players and commemorates the events of 50 years ago. 

Laramie-based photographer Mike Vanata shot these striking portraits of seven of the players during their visit as a part of his Faces of Wyoming project.

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  1. Keep in mind, many of these heroic protesters went to their graves absent any shape or form of an official apology or recognition of their brave sacrifices. What a pity, a pity 50 years of denial has engraved in U.S. and Cowpoke history. Maybe in fifty more years, our still racist nation will apologize to some more dead and a few surviving heroes who, today, protest the caging of children of color.

    And maybe, in fifty years, the offending institutions and their cheerleaders will, likewise, feel proud of their half century belated enlightenment. And the beat of white priviledged history goes on.

  2. It only took a full half century and the deaths of many of these students, athletes, U.S. citizens and patriots to receive an official apology from the University of Wyoming. The University must be so proud of itself it generated some good press for itself.
    Duane Short ~ September 17 2019

  3. And what of Eaton and the Board of Trustees members? Did they ever apologize? Were any of their careers affected negatively because of their racism? It isn’t like we didn’t know what racism was then. Those people purposely decided to participate in it and to encourage the community to support racism with them. I appreciate the courage and grace of the 14, and I appreciate the leadership of Laurie Nichols in making this happen. But what happened to those awful people in leadership positions at the time this happened? And is Nichols’ outreach to Native Americans and the 14 the cause of her employment to be so secretly and abruptly ended? Is the Board of Trustees still racist?

  4. 50 years later, I feel sad for what could have been. A great sacrifice for an honorable gestor to change not just BYU’s injustices but the nation! The State of Wyoming and the University of Wyoming did a great justice 50 years in the making today. I hope we can all realize how great of a sacrifice these 14 men gave and if we can all grow as human beings!

  5. Great photos. I was a young fan at the time and remember this travesty well. I’m still pissed at Lloyd Eaton for ruining these young men’s lives. He was racist.

  6. This was long overdue. But it was well done , finally, by UW,, the plaque, the letter, the letterman jackets,, kudos to former president Nichols for helping initiate this . Loved the photos . Looking forward to seeing the plaque next time I’m in Laramie.

  7. I was a sophomore in high school and remember this well

    Thank you to the Black 14 for standing tall and thank you to the University of Wyoming for recognizing their courage.