ATLANTA, Georgia — When former University of Wyoming football player John Griffin saw the display in the College Football Hall of Fame honoring the Black 14, he wept.
“It got to me, and it takes a lot to get to me,” he said on Monday, Feb. 5, standing in front of artifacts and infographics showcasing the Black 14’s story from the 1960s to present day. “I was standing back there with Tony McGee, and I was beginning to cry that this beautiful display, this history, tells it all.”
Griffin and McGee were two of the 14 Wyoming football players who were dismissed from their team in 1969 after asking the coach for permission to wear black armbands in protest of playing against Brigham Young University due to a policy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints preventing Black men from priesthood ordination. The Church’s policy was changed in 1978.
“We all stood tall with one another, not knowing where we were going to end up,” Griffin said. “We were told we weren’t going to amount to anything. Well, that didn’t happen. We’ve all had successful careers. …
“This makes me happy, because there’s history here that the masses can see,” he said of the Black 14 story on display throughout February.
For its celebration of Black History Month, the College Football Hall of Fame invited Griffin, McGee and their teammate Mel Hamilton to Atlanta, Georgia, for a two-day event series Feb. 5-6 to highlight the Black 14’s “resilience and bravery during a pivotal moment in both societal and college football history.”
Events included a food donation in collaboration with the Church and public screenings of a short film about the Black 14 produced by BYU students.
From facing injustice to feeding the hungry
For McGee — who went on to play 14 years in the National Football League with two Super Bowl appearances — the Black 14’s story of turning injustice into friendship and giving back to the community is better than what he did in football.
“One of the biggest successes I’ve had, other than my marriage and my family, is doing this with Brigham Young — feeding people,” he told a crowd gathered at the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday, Feb. 6. “We’ve always tried to feed people, but the mass of people that are being fed when food security is so important, this is one of my biggest jobs right now.”
The day prior, the Black 14 in collaboration with the Church donated 40,000 pounds of nonperishable food items to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The Black 14 has given nearly 1 million pounds of food to food banks across the country the past four years with the Church’s help.
Elder M. Andrew Galt, an Area Seventy who participated in the Atlanta food donation and has developed a strong relationship with McGee, said donations like this are about more than food.
“I hope that it lets people know that we care about all of God’s children,” he said. “There are people out there that are struggling. And when we come together with different groups like the Black 14, I think it shows really a story of redemption, of hope, of repentance, of just an outlook of a very good future.”
That’s the message Hamilton hopes people understand when they learn about the Black 14.
“I want people to realize that revenge is not going to get you anywhere. Hate is not going to get you anywhere. Try to think of a way to turn that bad incident around to the benefit of others. That’s my takeaway,” Hamilton said.
BYU student-produced film at the College Football Hall of Fame
On Feb. 6, the College Football Hall of Fame invited the public to a screening of “The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls,” produced by BYU journalism students. Hamilton, Griffin and McGee participated in a panel discussion following the film, moderated by Denis Crawford, a historian and exhibit designer at the College Football Hall of Fame.
Crawford called it “a true and great privilege” for the College Football Hall of Fame to share Black 14’s story. “These men are true civil rights pioneers and worthy of our esteem and admiration,” he said.
A similar panel event took place the night before at the Auburn Avenue Research Library in Atlanta, moderated by Stephane Dunn, a professor at Morehouse College and chair of the Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies Department.
To produce the documentary, a team of BYU students traveled to 11 states in 10 days in spring 2022 to visit with members of the Black 14. They added five minutes of footage after Griffin and Hamilton visited BYU in September 2022.
BYU communications professor Ed Carter said the film ending up at the College Football Hall of Fame two years later was “serendipitous.”
“I got this invitation out of the blue, an email from the College Football Hall of Fame, saying, ‘Hey, we’re doing a Black History Month event. We’re going to have an exhibit on the Black 14. Could you come out and be part of that and show the film?’ So of course, we’d love that opportunity for our students’ work to be shown,” Carter told the Church News.
“What I have realized is the reason the story has legs is because the Black 14’s message is of hope and optimism and reconciliation, even though they’re also very honest about the real harms that they felt,” he explained.
In a divided world, there’s a hunger for stories like this, Carter added. He shared how he has been inspired by the Black 14: “I can’t solve all the problems, but I can do something. That is their example to me — do what you can do in your area and make a difference. That’s how the world gets better.”