On a beautiful Rocky Mountain fall Friday in 1969, 14 Black football players at the University of Wyoming walked into Coach Lloyd Eaton’s office and told him they planned to wear black armbands to the game between Wyoming and Brigham Young University the next day. Coach Eaton forbade them to wear the armbands and kicked them off the team. The players lost their scholarships and most never played football again.
There were repercussions for the football team as well. They had played 4-0 that season but won only two more games that fall and then started losing. They had only one winning season throughout the 1970's. Coach Eaton left after one more year.
I was thirteen-years-old at the time and wore a black armband to school that same Friday afternoon to protest the treatment of the 14 football players. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case had been decided in January of the same year, just nine months earlier, which allowed students to protest in the public schools. That decision supported my right to wear the protesting arm band despite the pleas of my math teacher that I should take it off.
Last week, the Iowa State Student Government brought yet another concern about joining ranks with Brigham Young University, concerning that university’s anti-LGBTQIA+ stance. They are unhappy that the higher echelons made the decision to include BYU along with three other new schools in the Big 12 without consulting student government.
Martin Luther King said the “the moral ark of justice is long, but it bends toward justice.” The University of Wyoming would have been wise to heed MLK’s words in 1969, allowing those players their silent protest. A lot of people paid a price for that prideful decision.
I would like to suggest that Iowa State and the other Big 12 Schools should also think long and hard about what their decision will mean for the future. Students often have a clearer vision about such things than those of us who are older. Student voices should have been heard and heeded when the discussion first took place. Since they weren’t, they should be heard and heeded now.
Greta Muller Levis is an associate teaching professor in the department of English.