Healing continues as 2 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 Church of Jesus Christ 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 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.
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.”
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.
Sitake said, “I’m so proud of you guys,” Griffin reported.
The University of Wyoming apologized to the Black 14 in 2019.
“Now we’re working in concert with the church, with BYU, with Wyoming,” Griffin said.
And they’re not done, he added.
“The rest of the story hasn’t been told quite yet,” Griffin said. “We have plans to do some pretty special stuff. ... The story is going to continue. We’re just gonna ramp it up.”
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.
Elders Nielsen and Bennett attended the game and Elder Nielsen pushed Hamilton in his wheelchair onto the field before the ceremony.
“I can’t divulge it right now, but it will happen in the next six months and it will help a lot of people,” Griffin said.
Hamilton’s son joined the Church of Jesus Christ and his granddaughter is a missionary in Barbados, where she is helping clean up after Hurricane Fiona, said Hamilton’s wife, Carey.
Griffin’s wife, Gilda, also joined him on the trip to BYU.
“In the days when I played here, there was a lot of animosity from these stands here,” Hamilton said. “Today I felt the love they have and I soaked it all in. Hopefully, this whole stadium could feel my love and gratitude.”
Hamilton’s and Griffin’s visit to BYU was sponsored by BYU’s new Office of Belonging.
Both men have used their faith in Jesus Christ to describe how the church and Black 14 have exchanged ashes for beauty.
“God brought us together,” Griffin said Friday night after the premier of the new documentary, “The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls,” by BYU journalism students. “Everything we’ve done to this day, even being here, is godly work.”
“God looked in our favor,” Hamilton said.
They felt the same way Saturday night on the field.
“It’s a fantastic feeling,” Griffin said. “I can sum this week up in one word, and that’s fellowship.”