A Courageous Stand: The Story of the Syracuse 8

Unresolved Grievances

Despite multiple meetings between Chancellor John Corbally, other University representatives, football coaching staff, the boycotting student-athletes, and their advisors, progress was slow and tensions continued to mount. Because they had missed spring practice, the Black players had been suspended from the football team, and Schwartzwalder assumed they would not play that season. The University administration disagreed. Corbally and Vice Chancellor Jim Carleton instead directed him to hire a Black assistant football coach and to reach out to the suspended student-athletes to discuss their status for the upcoming season.

Coach Schwartzwalder’s Decision

A Black assistant football coach, Carlmon Jones, was finally hired in the summer of 1970, but neither the administration nor the football coaching staff took any other steps to address the boycotting athletes’ other grievances. By the first half of August, Coach Schwartzwalder determined that only two of the players, Greg Allen and Robin Griffin, could be reinstated to the football team and declared that the “adverse attitude” of the others would undermine team morale and discipline. Griffin returned to the team and played that season, but Allen continued to boycott with the remaining Syracuse 8.
Memorandum from Jim Carleton, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, to Chancellor John Corbally, June 24, 1970. Chancellor John Corbally Records, University Archives.

Carleton reported to Corbally about directing Coach Schwartzwalder to contact the members of the Syracuse 8.

Copy of letter from Coach Ben Schwartzwalder to Richard Bulls, July 6, 1970. Ben Schwartzwalder Papers, University Archives.

Directed by the University administration to reach out to the boycotting student-athletes to determine their status on the team before the fall season, Schwartzwalder wrote the same letter for each of the Syracuse 8.

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Letter from Allen R. Sullivan, Syracuse 8 representative, to Chancellor John Corbally, July 14, 1970. Chancellor John Corbally Records, University Archives.

The boycotting student-athletes had the support of advisors on campus, including Dr. Allen Sullivan, who was a graduate student; Rev. Dr. George Moody, Director of the Martin Luther King On-Campus Elementary School; Dr. Charles Willie, professor and chair of the Sociology Department; and Dr. John L. Johnson, professor of education and then Provost and Director of Minority Affairs. They served as spokesmen, provided meeting space, and worked behind the scenes to assist the Syracuse 8.

“Causes and Reasons for not Reinstating Seven Football Players,” signed by Coach Ben Schwartzwalder, August 1970. Chancellor John Corbally Records, University Archives.

Memorandum from John L. Johnson, Assistant Provost for Minority Group Affairs, to Chancellor John Corbally and Vice Chancellor Melvin Eggers, August 12, 1970. Chancellor John Corbally Records, University Archives.

The Human Rights Commission Steps In

Three of the boycotting student-athletes (A. Alif Muhammad, Dana “D.J.” Harrell and Duane Walker) filed discrimination complaints with the Human Rights Commission of Syracuse and Onondaga County that summer, and on September 3, Muhammad filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights. Attempting to coordinate a resolution, Syracuse’s Human Rights Commission met with members of the Syracuse 8, Coach Schwartzwalder, Athletic Director Jim Decker, and Vice Chancellor Jim Carleton. The Commission recommended that both the coach and the Syracuse 8 identify commitments they would need from each other and work together in “good faith” to reinstate the student-athletes back onto the team.

Corbally approved of the recommendations and the return of the boycotting athletes to the football team, but only if they signed a statement that justified their suspension. The Syracuse 8 refused to sign the document, though, because the language of the statement placed full blame of the conflict on them and did not acknowledge their grievances. Even after the University administration revised the statement, the Black athletes refused again to sign, and the fall 1970 football season began without them.

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Copy of State of New York Division of Human Rights Complaint of Al Newton, Jr. (A. Alif Muhammad) against Syracuse University, Athletic Department, and Coach Ben Schwartzwalder, September 3, 1970. Ben Schwartzwalder Papers, University Archives.

Copy of statement offered to boycotting Black football players to sign for reinstatement into the football team, August 1970. Chancellor John Corbally Records, University Archives.

The Syracuse 8 refused to sign this or the revised statement because both placed full blame for the conflict on the boycotting student-athletes and did not acknowledge their grievances.

Photograph of the 1970 Syracuse University football team. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

In the second row, Robin Griffin, who had boycotted in the spring but returned in the fall, was the only Black student-athlete who played that season.

Jim Brown

On September 1, Jim Brown ’57, the All-American #44 who went on to become an NFL running back, arrived on campus. He met with the Chancellor and other administrators, the boycotting players and their white team members, and Schwartzwalder and his coaching staff. Holding a press conference on September 3, Brown acknowledged the allegations of the Syracuse 8: “I refuse to believe that the Syracuse Community, the large alumni of this great institution knowing that Blacks have fought so diligently for Syracuse’s recognition in all endeavors will tolerate the persistent demonstrated acts of discrimination which are so evident…. I’m convinced that these acts will not go unchallenged.” In the end, Brown’s visit did not result in a resolution.

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Copy of press statement from Jim Brown, 3 September 1970. Chancellor John Corbally Records, University Archives.

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“Mythical Reinstatement”

Following negotiations with Coach Schwartzwalder, Chancellor Corbally announced the reinstatement of the boycotting student-athletes on September 22. They reported to practice the next day only to find just three of them were academically and physically eligible to play. After word got out through the Daily Orange that white members of the football team had felt coerced into accepting them back, the Syracuse 8 realized the reinstatement was disingenuous and continued their boycott. Chancellor Corbally abandoned negotiations, and the student-athletes never returned for the 1970 season.

Copy of telegram from Robert J. Mangum, Commissioner of Human Rights, State of New York, to Ben Schwartzwalder, September 21, 1970. Chancellor John Corbally Records, University Archives.

Syracuse University Press Release, September 22, 1970. Chancellor John Corbally Records, University Archives.

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Memorandum, “Rejection of Mythical Reinstatement,” from The Eight Black Athletes and Player Representative to Chancellor John Corbally, September 27, 1970. Chancellor John Corbally Records, University Archives.