Time Machine: Eight Black athletes off football team
Courtesy of the SU Archives
Editor’s note: The article below is a republished story from The Daily Orange’s Sept. 15, 1970 edition. Then-Editor in Chief Samuel Hemingway and then-Chairman of the Editorial Board Bill Leogrande wrote it as the story of the Syracuse 8 developed.
Al Newton, Dana Harrell, Duane Walker, Bucky McGill, John Godbolt, Rich Bulls, and Greg Allen will not be playing football for Syracuse this fall. They are black. On August 28, they were suspended from the team after refusing to sign a statement which they felt reprimanded them but absolved the University and the coaching staff of blame for the circumstances that resulted in their boycott of spring football practice.
Several of them are risking careers in professional football to make their point. They charge that the coaching staff, headed by Coach Floyd “Ben” Schwartzwalder, has behaved in a racist manner and that Syracuse University, as represented by its administration, has refused to act in good faith to resolve the dispute.
Morale on the team has not been good for the past two years, and Schwartzwalder has expressed his belief that the attitudes of his black players have been to blame. Last spring, the controversy gained a public spotlight when nine of the team’s ten black players began a boycott of spring practice. The nine included the eight players now suspended and Robin Griffin who was invited to rejoin the team over the summer. Ron Page did not participate in the spring boycott, and his status has not come into question.
The spring boycott marked the culmination of at least two years of unsuccessful negotiations. It was the first public indication of the seriousness of the existing discontent. The boycotting players felt that all other procedures had been exhausted and that the boycott was their only alternative. As a result of their boycott, seven of the blacks were not invited to rejoin the football team. This summer, in a series of complex and sometimes desperate moves for reconciliation, the administration tried to coax the black players back into the fold without unduly infringing upon the domain that the coaching staff considers its own. The University failed because the uninvited athletes refused to compromise their position and refused to trust the University which, they believed, had not and was not operating in good faith.
The three major forces in the dispute have been the eight black athletes, and their spokesman George Moody, director of King-on-campus School; Chancellor John E. Corbally and the administration; and Coach Schwartzwalder, supported by his coaching staff and football squad. In the course of negotiations this summer and in the past, both the county and state Human Rights Commission have ben called in.
Moody characterizes the issues as “the racist behaviors that exist in our football team as perpetuated by the coaching staff.” Corbally sees it as a “misunderstanding” and Schwartzwalder claims “It’s a farce; they have nothing, no real complaints.”
While Schwartzwalder marks 1968 as the inception of the controversy, the black players are quick to point out that there is a long history of racist attitudes and practices that stretches back to Avatus Stone and Jim Brown, to the late forties and early fifties. The past two years have been characterized by a heightening of the racial antagonism on the team due to the repeated request of the black players that Schwartzwalder hire a black assistant coach. They felt that a black coach would help alleviate some of the racist practices that they felt subjected to, and would be a person they could take their grievances to without fear of retribution.
As a result of a fight on Marshall Street between a white player and a black man named LeRoy Wright and a later incident at Sid’s Tavern, the State Human Rights Commission entered onto the scene. Wright spoke to Neil Hoffman, Regional Director of SHRC, and Hoffman in turn asked Dean of Men David Tatham to look into the fight incident. At least two meetings of the football team resulted. The first was chaired by Schwartzwalder and one of the blacks listed some of the black players grievances, one of which was the double standard of discipline used by the coaching staff as illustrated by the fight incidents. Although the white player had “done quite a job of Wright” in Schwartzwalder’s words, he was not disciplined. The coach defends his action by saying that Beech was assaulted with a club, but the black players point to less serious incidents that brought severe discipline when the offending player was black.
Students who were here in 1968 and 1969 will recall that the spring of 1969 was a time of protest among the Universiy’s black students, protests that eventually led to the formation of an Afro-American Studies program and a Vice-Presidency for Minority Group Affairs. At one of SU’s home basketball games, a number of black football players refused to stand during the national anthem. A meeting of the football team was subsequently held over whether or not those players ought to be disciplined for their action. The meeting did not resolve the issue although it heightened tensions considerably. Vice-Chancellor Jim Carleton relates that he communicated by “private conversation” with the coaching staff and made known his feeling that there was a distinction between black students who happened to be football players demonstrating at a basketball game. Carleton did not feel that discipline was appropriate.
The next weekend, SU played a home game against Niagara, and before the basketball game began, nearly a hundred black students rose and move to the side court raising the clenched fist during the national anthem; an action taken in support of the football players who had refused to stand at the previous game.
Later that same evening, a meeting was held attended by a number of black athletes from various sports, Mr. Bob Warr who is now an at-large member of the city Common Council, Dr. Ron Walters who is now head of the Black Studies program at Brandeis University, and Al Sullivan who is now teaching at the University of Minnesota. General discussion centered around a number of grievances concerning the entire athletic department and the football coaching staff in particular;
- Medical malpractice by the football team physician, particularly in the case of black athletes.
- The double standard used in disciplinary actions, specifically the fight incidents.
- Discrimination in compiling the depth chart (the players on the first, second, third teams).
- Lack of academic advising, tutoring, and “lobbying” for black players.
- Use of racist language by coaches such as “boy,” “nigger,” etc.
- Cutting of black players from the list of players to go on trips.
- The fact that no black athlete had a “community sponsor,” a person who helped provide some of the gravy that accrues to being a varsity football player.
- Numerous specific instances of racist behavior.
The hiring of a black assistant football coach was seen as a way to begin solving the numerous problems that blacks were faced with, and several weeks later, Warr, Walters, and Sullivan met with University officials to transmit the players feelings.
The three player representatives met with Chairman of the Athletic Governing Board Carleton, Athletic Director James Decker and coach Schwartzwalder, and the player’s grievances were reviewed. Most of the meeting, however, was given over to discussing the players request for a black assistant coach. Coach Schwartzwalder’s defense then, as now, was that the black players were not putting out 100%. Their attitude toward the game was just not good enough; that was the cause of all the discontent. But he finally agreed to look for a black coach.
Everyone remembers leaving the meeting with a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling that a solution was finally being attained. Bob Warr recalls, “A commitment was made to hire a black coach and promises were made to solve the other problems. I remember that we (Warr, Walters, and Sullivan) felt very happy about the meeting.” Carleton recalls being “very encouraged” by Schwartzwalder’s commitment to look for a black coach.
Al Sullivan gave Carleton two suggestions which Carleton passed on to Schwartzwalder. Both were contacted; one was already receiving a better salary where he was, the other was not acceptable to Schwartzwalder.
But the two assistant coaching positions that were then vacant were filled with two white alumni by fall practice 1969, and the black players were informed that no funds were available to establish another coaching position. This juncture marks the first major concession that the black players feel they made. After being informed that no regular assistant coach could now be hired, they agreed that an interim coach for spring practice would be acceptable until the head coach could find someone to fill a permanent position. They felt that even a temporary coach for the spring would allow them to make a good showing in the early days when the initial depth chart begins to take shape.
The idea of obtaining a temporary coach for spring practice was brought before the athletic governing board in early spring and was generally thought to be a good idea. But when spring practice actually began in April, the “coach” that appeared was Floyd Little who was actually in town to “see my accountant” about his income taxes. Little stayed in Syracuse for only a week and admits that he only got out to three or four practices. But while he was there he had some devastating things to say. In an interview with the Daily Orange, Little castigates Al Newton and John Godbolt specifically as having “terrible attitudes” toward the game, and said the same about “half a dozen other players.”
The next day, football players began a boycott of spring practice. Al Newton, Dana Walker, Bucky McGill, John Lobon, John Godbolt, Rich Bulls, Duane Walker, Robin Griffin, and Greg Allen were angered by Schwartzwalder’s attempt to pass off three days of Floyd Little as “temporary coach” for spring practice, and also by what they felt was Little’s whitewash job for Schwartzwalder. The black players assert that Little never talked at length to any of them, and Little himself later admitted that he did not say a word to Al Newton, one of the players he singled out as a guy with bad attitude. It is hard to understand, maintain the black players, how Floyd Little could come to three practice sessions, not talk to the disgruntled blacks, and then turn around and publically denounce them as having poor attitudes.
The boycott continued with the black players holding their own practice sessions in Archbold Stadium to emphasize that they did still want to play football. Chancellor Corbally entered the dispute, he and Vice-President (now Vice-Chancellor) Carleton meeting repeatedly with the black players. The outstanding grievance that the blacks had was the perfidy of the University in not hiring a full time black coach, and then not even getting a temporary coach for the spring.
In retrospect, the black players justify the boycott as a necessary attempt to gain redress of legitimate grievances. “We feel that the boycott was appositive nonviolent act designed to expose the issue of racism that exist on our team. At no time did we lose interest in participating as full fledged football players. It can be noted that we held our own practice sessions throughout our boycott. This kind of behavior clearly does not represent disinterests or irresponsibility. We, however, felt that the problems were not being solved and we felt that we had no other recourse but to boycott the sprig session.”
Corbally must have recognized the legitimacy of the request for a black coach because he gave a firm and specific commitment that one would be hired by fall 1970. But the black players did not feel that they could trust a University that had already broken two commitments to them. George Moody expressed the players feelings; “We recognize Corbally as a man, but we must recognize his institutional role as well. It is that role that we cannot trust.” Corbally then warned the black players that if they continued the boycott in the face of this new commitment made by the University, they would bear part of the responsibility for the consequences.
As the boycott dragged on with no conciliation in sight, Carleton stepped in hoping to bring the coach and the black players together to discuss their differences. Subsequently, Schwartzwalder held the interviews with all of the boycotting players and at the end of each interview informed the players as to whether they would be invited to return to the team in the fall. Of those interviewed, only Greg Allen and Robin Griffin were invited to return.
On July 31, feeling that they had exhausted the internal procedures for redressing their grievances, three of the black players Newton, Harrell, and Walker filed a complaint with the Syracuse and Onondaga County human Rights Commission on behalf of the boycotting players against the coaching staff and against Syracuse University, alleging discriminatory practices.
Most of the specific points in the complaint were the same grievances that had been at issue since 1968. Norman Pinkard, Eexecutive Director of the Syracuse and Onondaga County Human Rights Commission, called for a conciliation meeting to be held on August 21. The meeting was attended by the black players, Schwartzwalder, Athletic Director Decker, Corbally, and Carleton. In a letter to Corbally dated August 23, Pinkard reviews the substance of that meeting, concluding with the observation, “Coach Schwartzwalder acted in a summary fashion in dismissing the football players. The only factor that appears to have been considered is the coach’s personal opinion of the players attitudes.”
When asked later if he thought there was any substance to the black players alleged grievances, he replied, “There were some poor racial attitudes and improper behavior that caused the problem in the first place. And while the players have some legitimate grievances – there are racist attitudes – I don’t think we should make John Corbally pay the debts of Bill Tolley.”
Out of that meeting came Pinkard’s five recommendations for conciliation of the dispute (see box). In letters to Pinkard, both the Chancellor, representing the University, and George Moody, representing the black athletes, agreed to the five recommendations.
- Coach Schwartzwalder should identify the commitments he feels are necessary for the suspended athletes to indicate “good faith” and be reinstated on the team.
- The coach should also be prepared to establish procedures to help instill confidence and trust in his players. He should recognize that because of history and contemporary events it will be far more difficult to establish rapport with black players than white.
- We must recognize that this confrontation has affected attitudes at all levels of the team. Therefore, some effort should be made to bring everyone’s feelings out in the open. While communication alone will not change all of the misgivings that exist, it might lay the groundwork for understanding.
- The suspended players, on the other hand, should be prepared to list the commitments that they would require from the coaching staff to make them feel more secure as part of the team.
- The players should also be prepared to work with the University in total “good faith” once both sides have come to an agreement on terms.
In compliance with recommendation no. 1., Coach Schwartzwalder and Athletic Director Decker composed a statement that the black players would have to sign to be reinstated to the team, Corbally, Carleton, and Clifford Winters assistant chancellor for administration reviewed the statement with Schwartzwalder and Decker, and sent them back to rewrite it because it was felt to be too strongly worded. The second draft was then reworked by all five men and the final product was presented to the athletes and to Pinkard on August 25. Corbally later stated that he refused to drop the preamble to the statement later in the negotiations because he felt that coach Schwartzwalder had already compromised considerably from his original draft.
At this point, Allen, Griffin and Page were still on the team since they had all been invited back. The seven other black players were informed that they had until midnight on Wednesday August 26 to sign, since Thursday morning was when the team was schedule to pick up equipment.
During the day of the 26th, Moody sent a letter to Pinkard in compliance with point four of Pinkard’s recommendations, the feelings of the black players on reinstatement. Moody asserted that the University, while it had agreed to comply with the conciliation recommendations, had not done so. They had merely complied with the first, and by establishing the Wednesday deadline was attempting to force the black players to come to terms independent of the conciliation proceedings. Those terms, Moody argued, were teams that placed all blame on the black players without even recognizing that they had their own side to the issue.
In the letter to Pinkard, Moody calls upon Pinkard to safeguard the conciliation proceedings by overseeing the University’s compliance will ALL the recommendations, and calling a meeting so that both parties could sit down together and reach a mutual agreement.
The statement submitted by the University for the black athletes to sign as unacceptable to the players because it did not acknowledge any responsibility on the part of the University for the dispute, nor did it even recognize that the black players had raised any serious issue at all. Later, Pinkard voiced his agreement, “I think of its own responsibility for the boycott in the avidavit the players were asked to sign.”
But Pinkard explained to Moody that no meeting between the disputants could be arranged before the midnight deadline. The conciliation procedure outlined by Pinkard seemed to be on the verge of collapse.
That evening, the seven black players attempted to attend the team meeting, but were refused admittance until they would sign the statement. They refused, and Greg Allen walked off the team to join them.
At 12:30 that evening, Moody and Dana Harrell received a call from Pinkard informing them that a meeting had been set up and that they should come down immediately. In retrospect, Moody denounces the “paternalistic belief that I would be empowered to make any kind of decision for the athletes, or even be able to adequately represent their feelings without being able to speak to them before a meeting of this sort.”
The meeting was attended by Moody, Harrell, Corbally, Carleton, winters, Bob Warr, and Pinkard. The University presented a wording change in the preamble which essentially eliminated the personal pronouns but did not change the content of the statement. Moody and Harrell explained that the failure of the document to present both sides of the dispute made it unacceptable. Carleton then wrote a letter stating that the university was indeed at fault for the present problem and that earlier action could have avoided the dispute. Further, the University would do all it could to see that grievances of black athletes would be redressed in the long run. Pinkard agreed to also write a letter stating that the Human Rights Commission would continue to moderate the situation at the University.
A suggestion form Moody that the letters be incorporated into the document that the black players were to sign was turned down. Another suggestion by Dana Harrell called for “good faith” on the part of the University, as well as on the part of the black players. He suggested that the blacks be allowed to return to practice while the final solution was worked out. The players would have good faith that an adequate solution could be reached, and the University would have good faith that the blacks would play good football. His suggestion was refused.
Despite the University’s unwillingness to adopt a new statement entirely, and its unwillingness to allow the conciliation process to go on, Moody and Harrell felt that the rest of the players would be willing to sign the revised preamble in the context of the letters from Carleton and Pinkard. But Moody asserts that he clearly stated that neither he nor Harrell were empowered to make a decision, that the players would have to review the university’s new offer and make their own decision.
Despite that clear disclaimer, Pinkard notified the press that a solution had been reached. At 1:00 Thursday afternoon, Pinkard was notified by Moody that the players found the solution unacceptable. Corbally had granted an extension of the Wednesday night deadline in order to enter into the meeting that evening. But when he was advised that the solution reached at that meeting was unacceptable, he held a press conference and delivered an ultimatum to the black players.
I am now informed through reports of a press conference held by Mr. Norman Pinkard this afternoon that the arrangements which were proposed by the University to permit the reinstatement of several black athletes have been rejected by those individuals. Formal football practice begins at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. It is obvious that any individual not a member of the squad at that time has removed himself from participation as a member of the squad for the 1970 season.
With that, the conciliation efforts of the Human Rights Commission collapsed. The University, unwilling to give in to the requests and suggestions of the black players effectively destroyed any possible further attempt at conciliation by setting a deadline and demanding that the players submit or not play. At nine the next morning, the black players were nowhere to be seen. The Athletic Department officially announced their suspension from the team for the season.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE MIDDLE MEN
Throughout the dispute, the white football players have stood staunchly behind Schwartzwalder. A petition was passed around, signed, and presented to Chancellor Corbally indicating that the administrative officials of the University had no business interfering with the way the coach runs his football team.
Corbally’s indication that the University would comply with the Human Rights Commission recommendations and consider of the black players brought extraordinary hostile remarks from several varsity letterman. “Football is not a democratic society,” comments one white player, “You do what the coach says and that’s it. It’s based on discipline.”
“They walked out on us and said a lot of bad things about the team, the players, and the coaching staff,” said another player, “I don’t think they should be back on the team.” Yet another veteran was even stronger in his opinion. “Now all us guys who practiced this spring have to take them back. They made ridiculous demands. The blacks were treated as good, maybe better last season than the whites.”
On Thursday, August 27 the white players along with Page and Griffin, walked off the field without taking the traditional mile run. They explained that this was a symbolic boycott undertaken to dramatize the seriousness of their desire to have the black issue resolved. One of the players added, “If the blacks are reinstated tomorrow, they might get out of the mile run, so we decided against running until after regular practice begins.”
The depth of the anti-black sentiment on the ream is ominously recorded by the unanimous feelings that the morale of the ream is higher now, without the black players, than it has been in a long time. Schwartzwalder admits it, Corbally admits it, and the black players view it as one more instance of racism at Syracuse University.
Schwartzwalder maintains that the whole problem centers around a “groupism thing” that began infecting the team two years ago. He maintains that the allegations of the black athletes have no substance at all and see their willingness to sacrifice their football careers as a manifestation of their hope of destroying the Syracuse Football Team. He is not certain as to why football players should want to do that, although he is quick to point our that they want to run the team themselves and thereby give themselves privileges and advantages that their football ability does not deserve. “You can’t run a football team with that kind of farce. And you can’t ask people to play on that type of team.
Norman Pinkard of the Human Rights Commission was generally in agreement with the black players allegations, but after their refusal to accept the late-night solution, Pinkard admitted that he felt somewhat “betrayed.” “I am disappointed, extremely disappointed,” said Pinkard in front of the television cameras, “At the black players’ eleventh hour decision to reject the settlement agreed upon this morning.
Pinkard truly believed that the University had come a long way in its willingness to compromise, and he felt that he could ask them to do no more. In less guarded moments, he calls the players rejection of the solution “unreasonable.” With that failure, Pinkard declared that his office could do no more, and he dropped from the controversy.
From the first, the official stance of the University and its Chancellor has been that the grievances expressed by the black players were no more than misunderstandings. At one point, Corbally wrote to Pinkard, “We categorically deny the general allegation of discriminatory practices and specific allegations claimed to support the general charge.” But the University has made no attempt to defend itself against the allegations that even the Human Rights Commission sees some truth in it. Categorical denial has been the sole response.
“When eight men put their futures on the line,” says Moody, “The deserve justice not categorical denial. Justice simply means an investifation to see if they are right or wron. But all we get is categorical denials. When a man comes to you and says, ‘I have these feelings…’ do you turn your back on him? Do you deny him? That’s not justice.”
“There are some points beyond which you feel you cannot compromise,” explained Corbally, “My colleagues and I have made every effort to respect the rights of every individual involved in this controversy, and the rejected proposal rejected University compromises beyond which I am completely unwilling to go.
The black players continued attempts to work out a compromise solution after the Friday deadline, but to no avail. They are now uncertain as to what is their next course of action. Moody explains his belief that Pinkard and the Human Rights Commission took action that was “unjustifiable, grossly inadequate.” “If he took the thing as far as he felt he count, he has an obligation to bring in another agency, not to just cut us off.”
With the end of the formal negotiations, the black players turned their strategy towards exerting public pressure on the University. The following week, Syracuse alumni, and former star of the Cleveland Browns Jim Brown arrived in Syracuse and made his own attempts to reach a compromise. Several days after his arrival he held a press conference in which he described the intransience of the coaching staff, the white football players, and the University administration.
After speaking at sweeping length with the eight suspended athletes. Brown relates, “I then contacted Chancellor Corbally and he stated that, ‘The matter is out of my hands and in the hands of the head football coach.’”
“I then contacted Ben and he stated ‘Even if I would be willing to take back the Black players, there are bigoted players on the team who would not permit the suspended Black players to return.” I was then referred to the tri-captains (names).
“After much deliberation concerning the reinstatement to the squad of the Black ball players, the tri-captains agreed to discuss the team’s position concerning the status of the Blacks.
“I then met with the Black players to determine their willingness to return to the squad. After a brief discussion, they agreed unanimously to return to the squad with the hope that some kind of impartial monitoring system could be enacted.
“With this commitment I then went back to Coach Schwartzwalder, who subsequently informed me that, “Under no circumstances could he accept the Black players on the squad.”
“I met with the tri-captains and about twenty-five other white football players. I asked them if it were possible to return the Black players to the squad and if there would be any penalties. Joe Ehrmann, acting spokesman for the group stated emphatically that, “Under no circumstances would they accept them back on the squad.”
On the stage with Brown during his press conference were a number of black alumni of Syracuse, and the new black assistant coach Carlmon Jones. One of Brown’s first observations was that Jones had been hired as a freshman rather than a varsity coach, and is now in a “difficult position.”
During the question and answer period, Brown commented on Schartxwalder’s handling of the situation. “The problem lies around Ben Schwartxwalder and the Athletic Department. Ban has been a very stubborn man, a strong man always, and now he’s an old man…”
Vice Chancellor for Student Affiars Carleton assures everyone that the financial aid for the suspended players is not in jeopardy, “We are not going to try and come down on anyone’s scholarships.” Tuition is guaranteed because that aid isdependent only on the players academic standing. Room and Board is provided for the students “while a member of the varsity football team,” but traditionally, players who leave the squad involuntarily retain their scholarships. Carelton’s feeling is that the suspension of the black players constitutes an involuntary severance, and that the players will continue to receive room and board scholarships.
The controversy is probably not over. Jom Brown, in his press conference, pointed out that the next step was to try and generate support at the University. I refuse to believe that the Syracuse community, the large alumnae of this great institution… will tolerate the persistent, demonstrated acts of discrimination which are so evident as I now address you. Ladies and Gentleman, I’m convinced that these act will not go unchallenged.”
Moody, the player’s spokesman, says virtually the same thing but with more caution. He speaks of the variety of strategies open and the hope that if the while student body wishes to involved itself it will do so in support of the eight men who have risked their fortunes to raise an issue.
Published on September 22, 2015 at 10:28 pm