‘FLASHBACK’: 50 years after boycott, Syracuse 8 sees parallels in #NotAgainSU movement

first_img Published on April 26, 2020 at 10:54 pm Contact Danny: [email protected] | @DannyEmerman,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment. Fifty years ago, nine SU football players boycotted spring practices because their demands for equitable treatment weren’t being met by the athletic department and head coach Ben Schwartzwalder. This is part two of a three-part series tells the stories of the following scholar athletes who risked their futures for what was right: Dana Harrell, John Lobon, Richard Bulls, Duane Walker, John Godbolt, Ron Womack, Clarence McGill, Greg Allen and Alif Muhammad.Before boycotting spring practice in 1970, the nine Black members of Syracuse’s football team considered the risks. They could lose their scholarships, get kicked off the team or fuel more division in an already tense campus.Greg Allen had to weigh taking a stand for his own principles against ignoring them for his childhood dream: a legitimate shot at the NFL. John Lobon decided protesting was necessary because “nobody should ever have to go through this again.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIndividual reasons varied, but in the end, the Syracuse 8 chose to jeopardize their present and future to boycott what an independent committee deemed “chronic racism” within the athletic department.“It’s like the words of Martin Luther King: Anytime is the right time to do what’s right,” Alif Muhammad said.Fifty years later, that time came again. SU students faced similar uncertainties. Dozens of students occupied Crouse-Hinds Hall for 31 days, protesting the university’s response to hate incidents in the community after demonstrating in the Barnes Center at The Arch for eight days last November. That group, #NotAgainSU, as well as several others at SU since 1970, risked punishment to stand up for their beliefs.Though members of the Syracuse 8 acknowledge that the university has improved drastically since 1970 and praised the administration’s condemnation of racism, they see parallels in the themes of their boycott and #NotAgainSU. “It was like a flashback,” Lobon said. They’re saddened by the uptick in hatred in the Syracuse community and fear their ever-relevant story has gotten lost in time.“People call us, call me, and go ‘Man, what’s going on with Syracuse?’” Clarence McGill said. “I say, ‘Well, does this verify what we were talking about 50 years ago?’”,Like the Syracuse 8, #NotAgainSU presented the university with demands and faced criticism while seeking to make Syracuse safer for underrepresented people. #NotAgainSU’s movement, according to its original mission statement, aims to change “systems of oppression that are upheld and protected” by SU’s administration, mirroring the Syracuse 8’s fight against institutional racism.Both the Syracuse 8 and #NotAgainSU organizers fought for inclusivity but encountered broken promises, which fractured trust in the administration. When Syracuse temporarily suspended #NotAgainSU protesters in February, the movement retweeted a post comparing the situation to the Syracuse 8.#NotAgainSU’s demands included a revised curriculum to address modern diversity issues, mandatory diversity training for faculty and more counselors that represent marginalized identities on campus. The Syracuse 8 fought for equality in athletics and an integrated coaching staff. Some members were also involved in other causes, like establishing a Black student union and a Black studies program.“Hate ain’t dead,” Lobon said. “It just raised its ugly head again. What you have to have is right-minded people understand that you know what, we can’t keep going through these things because what it’s going to do is create chaos and misunderstandings.”Athlete activism expert and former Syracuse men’s basketball star Etan Thomas visited #NotAgainSU’s occupation of Crouse-Hinds in February. He recognized the similarities between their movement and the Syracuse 8. Both fought for causes that “should’ve been in place already,” Thomas wrote in an email.Several current Syracuse athletes joined #NotAgainSU in their own way last November. Players showed support on social media, SU’s men’s basketball players wore #NotAgainSU warmup shirts and some football players participated in the Barnes Center sit-in. Football players who stayed silent during the Theta Tau incident in 2018 couldn’t stay on the sidelines any longer.“This was the same 50 years ago: Those young men being athletes is secondary to them being Black men,” Dana Harrell said. “They have a voice as Black men whether they were piano players, football players, scientists, whatever they are. This is an issue that they have to address as Black men.”Those young ball players that are on the team now, and the Black athletes at Syracuse University in general, they don’t know about the Syracuse 8. And they need to know. Everybody in the university, including white people and other people of color, need to (know the history).Clarence McGill, Syracuse 8 member`When Harrell arrived on campus as a freshman in 1968, there were roughly 75 students of color at SU. As of fall 2019, 48.1% of Syracuse’s student body identifies as people of color or international students, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. Out of Syracuse’s 23 peer institutions, it has the 15th-highest campus ethnic diversity index as of fall 2018, per US News.“We still have issues today,” Harrell said. “We still have challenges. Black people still have challenges. Athletics still have challenges. America still has challenges. Football still has challenges. But the hope is to strive … we’re always striving for that more perfect union, aren’t we? We ain’t never going to get there. But you gotta keep striving.”In the summer the Syracuse 8 boycotted, 68 white players staged a counter-boycott and opposed reinstatement of the Black players. They signed a petition in full support of head coach Ben Schwartzwalder, who divided the team and labeled the Syracuse 8 as troublemakers. Joe Ehrmann, one of the white leaders on the 1970 team, vehemently opposed the boycott at the time but has since admitted he was wrong.With #NotAgainSU, many students and faculty have expressed support on social media or by joining protests, but some have called the movement’s lack of respect for authority dangerous and said both the organizers and the administration have handled controversies irresponsibly. In January, Syracuse briefly denied organizers access to food and necessities outside Crouse-Hinds.While occupying Crouse-Hinds one month later, #NotAgainSU added a demand that would include the Syracuse 8’s story — as well as the Black Panther protests, THE General Body and Recognize Us — in the SEM 100 curriculum.,It’s an idea that Syracuse 8 members approve of. History repeats itself, and the Syracuse 8 believe people, specifically athletes, can learn from their boycott. Can learn from the actions of Schwartzwalder, who called players racial slurs, directed medical malpractice, favored less-skilled white players on the depth chart and pitted players against each other based on the color of their skin.In recent years, some Orange football coaches have been more eager to involve the Syracuse 8 with their teams than others. McGill, whom Harrell tabbed the group’s “Dino Babers liaison,” has only spoken to SU’s current coach a handful of times in passing. McGill, Lobon and Allen were supposed to meet with Babers last winter, but a snowstorm interfered. The meeting hasn’t been rescheduled.“Those young ball players that are on the team now, and the Black athletes at Syracuse University in general, they don’t know about the Syracuse 8,” McGill said. “And they need to know. Everybody in the university, including white people and other people of color, need to (know the history).”After an early March practice in the Clifford J. Ensley Athletic Center, two miles from Crouse-Hinds, sophomore wide receiver Taj Harris’s eyes rose up from his shoes. He follows the #NotAgainSU movement on social media and retweeted SU Athletics’ statement expressing support in November. But the Syracuse 8? “Never even heard of it,” Harris said.Later that day, like after any practice, Harris and his teammates exited the Ensley Center and walked right past a larger-than-life bronze statue of the winningest coach in SU football history: Ben Schwartzwalder.Cover photo illustration by Talia Trackim | Presentation DirectorPhotos courtesy of Syracuse 8 Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries Commentslast_img