Healing continues as two members of ‘Black 14’ light the Y, receive warm reception at BYU-Wyoming game

Black 14’s John Griffin and Mel Hamilton say collaboration with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to fight food insecurity will continue

Two members of the Black 14 ceremoniously lit the Y on the mountain above LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday night, Sept. 24, before the BYU-Wyoming game, becoming two of the least likely “Y Lighters” in BYU football history.

“It’s a miracle,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said. “If people want to see a miracle, we saw one tonight.”

Mel Hamilton, John Griffin and a dozen other Black Wyoming football players were kicked off their top-20 team a day before their game with BYU in 1969. They were banished for going to ask their coach if they could wear black armbands during the game to protest a now-lifted ban on Blacks holding the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors BYU.

Griffin and Hamilton spent the past four days talking with BYU’s football team, students and administrators, topping it off Saturday night by lighting the Y before No. 19 BYU’s 38-24 win over Wyoming.

“The fact we’re in this stadium is surreal for me and for Mel,” Griffin said. “I haven’t felt this well in a long time. It’s adding to the healing that’s been under way for a lot of years.”

The Black 14 reconciled with the Church in 2020, when they collaborated to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of food to food pantries in the players’ hometowns.

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Being banished from their team was incredibly painful for the 14 Black players. Griffin harbored anger for a decade. Hamilton quit watching the sport he loved and picketed the Latter-day Saint Institute next to the Wyoming campus.

“That’s 53 years ago,” Griffin said. “Now, it’s entirely different. We want to work together to help mankind. We’re brothers and sisters. We’re friends. The LDS food coordinator for Colorado, we’re the best of friends. He’s helped me fight the battle of food insecurity.”

Mel Hamilton and John Griffin, members of the 1969 Wyoming Black 14, push the button to light the Y prior to BYU and Wyoming playing at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Griffin said he got big hugs Saturday night on the field from Wyoming coach Craig Bohl and BYU coach Kalani Sitake. They also received cheers from 60,042 fans.

Though Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, a General Authority Seventy and former BYU and NFL quarterback who has been the Church’s liaison with the Black 14, is now assigned in Africa, Griffin said he has spent the past three days working on a strategy for the Black 14 to do more with the Church through Elder Randall K. Bennett, a General Authority Seventy.

Elder Nielsen and Elder Bennett attended the game, and Elder Nielsen pushed Hamilton in his wheelchair onto the field before the ceremony.

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