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Sydney Walker: The timeless message of forgiveness the Black 14 shared at the College Football Hall of Fame

During a panel discussion with three members of the Black 14, a man asked how they were able to let go of anger and bitterness

ATLANTA, Georgia — As Craig Summers listened to members of the Black 14 share their stories at the College Football Hall of Fame on Feb. 6, he thought about his father, who died 20 years ago, and the bitterness his father carried.

Summers, a resident of Alpharetta, Georgia, and a father of three, attended the screening of short film “The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls,” produced by Brigham Young University students, and the subsequent panel discussion at the Hall of Fame at the invitation of a friend.

When the moderator opened up the discussion with Mel Hamilton, John Griffin and Tony McGee to questions from the audience, Summers was the first to raise his hand.

Summers told the former 1969 University of Wyoming football players that his father played for the University of Illinois in 1963 and grew up in Evanston, just north of Chicago.

“A lot of pain,” Summers said of his father’s experience. “When my mother and he wanted to get an apartment in Evanston, they were refused because they were Black. He carried that bitterness. … I think in a large part it killed my dad. … I think a lot of that anger was in him.”

A man asks a question to Tony McGee, John Griffin and Mel Hamilton of the Black 14 during a panel discussion.
During a panel discussion at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia, on Feb. 6, 2024, Craig Summers asks members of the Black 14 — Tony McGee, John Griffin and Mel Hamilton — how they were able to let go of the anger they experienced after being dismissed from the University of Wyoming football team in 1969. | Tiffany Bird, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Summers asked the Black 14 members how they were able to let their own bitterness go.

Hamilton was the first to answer. “In all honesty, I did not let it go immediately,” he said.

“As a matter of fact, I did not let the anger go until John [Griffin] and I were discussing how we were going to help our communities. And God works in mysterious ways. I wouldn’t watch a football game for 20 years, I was so angry. Then this opportunity presented itself. God said it was time. It was time to let it go.

“It had to be God, because — I even get emotional right now — it was so intense that it stifled me,” Hamilton continued. “I couldn’t do anything. And I got back together with the 14 and, all of a sudden, it was gone. And all I was looking for was, ‘How can I help others?’ …

“I didn’t think about it; it just happened. That’s all I can tell you. It just happened. And I’m glad it did.”

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Griffin said he was angry for a decade. Then he had what he described as “one of those revelations” — “I said, ‘Why am I continuing to harbor this anger because I cannot change history? It is what it is.’ So I made a concerted effort to change my perspective on what happened to me.”

In 1982 — 13 years after being dismissed from the football team — Griffin visited the University of Wyoming and attended a football game. “It was difficult,” he said, “but it was well worth it to me, because it was a bit of a cleansing step for me.”

McGee said the hardest phone call he’s ever made was to his mother in 1969 to tell her he had lost his football scholarship.

“I haven’t forgotten any of it,” McGee said of what he experienced. But he’s been able to channel it into something positive by helping those in need.

“All the pain may not be gone, and all the love may not be here, but we’re progressing, and we’re making it happen,” he added.

An advertisement for the film “The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls” outside the College Football Hall of Fame.
A sign outside the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia, advertises a film screening and panel discussion involving the Black 14 on Feb. 6, 2024. | Tiffany Bird, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

After the panel discussion ended, I found Summers in the audience and thanked him for asking such an important question. He told me he was close with his dad, and overcoming anger is something he often thinks about because of things that have happened in his life and his kids’ lives.

“But I am a believer, and I believe that you have to do what these men did — you have to let it go,” Summers said. 

“It’s easy to be consumed and allow that to make you hate them, hate that and justify your anger. But this is an ongoing lesson for me personally and for me as a dad. … I think it’s a message that’s timeless.”

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As I reflect on Summers’ observations and how these members of the Black 14 were able to let go of anger, I am reminded of what Church President Russell M. Nelson has taught about forgiveness:

“When we choose to forgive others, we allow the Lord to remove the poison from our souls. We permit Him to soothe and soften our hearts, so we can see others, especially those who have wronged us, as children of God and as our brothers and sisters. …

“I promise that as you forgive,” President Nelson continued, “the Savior will relieve you of anger, resentment and pain. … Because of Him, you can experience the joy and miracle of forgiveness.”

As Summers said, it’s a message that’s timeless. 

— Sydney Walker is a reporter for the Church News.

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