The Syracuse 8

By Brianna Baldwin and Katie Keith

In honor of Black History month, we would like to present a story of courage and success of eight African American football stars from Syracuse University who stood up for their rights and spoke out against injustices. The Syracuse 8, composed of 9 players, were African-American football stars who stood up against unfair practices the coaches and other administrators from Syracuse University were conducting at the time.

Syracuse University, starting in 1870, boosts about its diversity within their school system. Syracuse University is ranked 719 out of 2,718 for ethnic diversity, which is slightly above the average rating. According to College Factual, 56.5% of Syracuse University is Caucasian, 9.9% is Hispanic/Latino, 7.7% African American, 7.2% is Asian, and 18.1% has an unknown ethnicity. Is Syracuse University truely as diverse and inclusive as they boast so proudly to be?

In May of 1970, 100 years later, a group of nine African American students and football stars (out of ten African American football stars at Syracuse University) walked out of a game in order to try and make a point. This was not random though, this protest happened after two years of asking for better accommodations for African American students, including themselves. It began by asking for an African American assistant coach. They wanted this to help stop the discriminatory practices the head coach and the school executed. The rest of the complains the players had were listed in The New York Times as:

  • Medical malpractice by the team's doctor, especially affecting blacks.

  • A double standard in discipline.

  • Discrimination in placing players on the first, second and third teams.

  • A lack of academic advising, tutoring and “lobbying” for them.

  • Racist language used by coaches.

  • A lack of community sponsors for black athletes. (The sponsor is a source of fringe benefit for athletes).

  • Cutting black players from the list of team members making trips.

This list does not include the discrimination in terms of professional offers as well as in the classrooms. Many, if not all, of these African American players were unable to take all the classes the white players were able to. Plus, these players were not given letter jackets or even an opportunity to receive them.

The nine players boycotted practice and were suspended from the team. One of these nine were invited back but the rest were suspended until they were later reinstated “to the dismay of their white teammates who resent their not working out with the team” according to The New York Times. In an interview, mentioned within the same article, the couch of the team at the time called African Americans “outsiders” and that he did not “want any trouble with any outsider.” Before their reinstatement, the same nine players were unable to participate in a game in Kansas which resulted in a loss for Syracuse with a score of 31-14. After this game, a violent fight between the spectators (approximately 400 students) and the police erupted.

Years have passed since this event and the players who participated in the Syracuse 8 boycotts have moved on with their lives with success. According to The Players’ Tribune article titled The Syracuse 8, Dana Harrell went on to become an attorney,  A. Alif Muhammad, became an Instructional Coach in education for the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice System, Gregory Allen became a Regional Manager for Liberty Mutual, and these are only three of the nine men, all of them led wonderful lives after they left/graduated from Syracuse University. There was even a book written about their lives and their fight for equality within the school titled Leveling the Playing Field: The Story of the Syracuse Eight written by David Marc. In 2006, the players (who had not passed since the boycotts) were invited back in 2006, “to receive the Chancellor’s Medal — the university’s highest honor — and their letterman’s jackets — a few sizes larger than they would have been in 1970.” This came after students of the time had asked the university to issue a public apology to the Syracuse 8.

Even after all of these events, the players still remain humble. In The Players’ Tribune article titled The Syracuse 8, Clarence “Bucky” McGill (a member of Syracuse 8) stated “We still have the desire to keep pushing. The majority of the proceeds of this book are going to the scholarship fund for black and Latino students at Syracuse. That is a powerful statement we wanted to make. We all decided to do that. We want to keep pushing to make sure our sacrifice is not in vain. We have our first Syracuse 8 Scholarship recipient, in May 2015 in Information Technology. So that’s where the progress is. We’re still continuing.”

If you enjoyed reading about the Syracuse 8 and want to learn more, stay tuned for an interview with Clarence “Bucky” McGill.