I have been blessed in my lifetime to meet some inspiring and heroic people. In 1981, I met one of those people in my life. As a new member of the New England Patriots, on my first day I walked into my new locker room and right away saw a nametag over a locker that I immediately recognized. This guy was a hero of mine and he didn’t even know it. The nametag read, Tony McGee. Tony McGee was one of the members of the University of Wyoming’s Black 14. In 1969, fourteen black football players of the UW football team were dismissed from the team by their head coach, Lloyd Eaton, because of their resistance to the policy of Brigham Young University that barred black men from priesthood in the Mormon Church. BYU is owned and operated by the Mormon Church. The Black 14 and other students wanted to bring attention to this and other social injustices occurring throughout our country at the time, but they were immediately dismissed, disregarded and ridiculed by the University of Wyoming, its Board of Directors and UW sports fans. http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/black-14-race-politics-religion-and-wyoming-football
The Black 14 stood up for justice and civil rights, but paid a painful price for their commitment. They loss their scholarships and their sports careers. Only two of the fourteen went on to play professionally. Only a few graduated and only one graduated from UW. Attempts to reinstate these student-athletes all failed. Over the next 46 years, only a few people remember this brave act of athletes insisting on having their voice heard and respected. In our current environment when athletes like Colin Kaepernick, take a stand against civil injustice only to be accused of being unpatriotic, called a traitor and essentially “black balled” from the NFL, has anything really change?
I walked up to Tony and introduced myself. He said, “hi, I am Tony”, I said to him, “no, you are “Mac the Sac, I remember you from UW. I went to CSU and had a similar experience in college even though I was only 30 miles south of Laramie, Wyoming”. The smile on Tony’s face I will never forget. I could tell he was impressed that someone remembered him and his journey. He didn’t know it at the time but I was proud to be on a team with him.
I had many experiences of discrimination, racism and prejudice while at Colorado State University. Ironically, one was while playing our conference rival, the University of Wyoming Cowboys. While coming out for pre-game warm up at the Cowboy stadium, an entire section of UW fans decided that they felt safe enough to call me “nigger”, “monkey” and other racial derogatory terms. Before I went back to the locker room to get ready for the kick off, they decided to throw bananas at me and demonstrate monkey sounds in my direction. It should be noted that at this time (1978-79), I was one of only 8 black quarterbacks in Division 1 football. At the conclusion of this game, I experienced the first time in my life that I actually cried because I was overwhelmed with emotion. With only 30 seconds left on the clock, 4th down, and down by 5 points, I threw a 50 yard pass for a touchdown to win the game. I barely had enough time to throw the pass because of the blitz I didn’t see coming from my blind side. As I laid in the mud face down, I initially didn’t know the results of the pass. As I open my eyes from the muddy turf, all I could hear was a collective groan from the Wyoming fans and loud cheer from my team’s sideline. My head was ringing with pain, but I remember thinking to myself, “no matter what Keith, get up, don’t stay down, get up!” I needed to get up and stand tall for those who came before me. Those who’s years before I came to this stadium, were not even allowed to enter, not to mention, play on this field. I stood tall at that moment not just for my team, but also for myself.
In an act of deviance or some sense of a non-verbal “take that” reaction, before I left the playing field, I picked up one of those banana peels and threw fifty yards back into the stands and ran to the lockers.
Certainly, times have changed and overt actions and attitudes have adjusted to “so called progress.” I cannot help to wonder if this road of life we are traveling as a society is a path of progress or a big circle of redundancy?
I am proud to recognize and honor the “Black 14” and my friend, Tony McGee. Your commitment has not been forgotten, at least not by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports, and certainly not by me. Thanks Tony.
Keith L. Lee