That Time the Razorbacks Football Team Went On Strike: Part 1

In other states, Arkansans have played major roles in some of the biggest team protest/strikes in college football history. In 1969, for instance, Sparkman native Fred Milton precipitated an Oregon State football protest generating national headlines by simply refusing to cut his hair.

Later that same year, Pine Bluff native Ivie Moore became one of Wyoming’s “Black 14” who boycotted an upcoming game against BYU.

In 2015, of course, the entire Missouri football team went on strike in advance of a game against BYU — though for different reasons than the Wyoming players. Russellville native Mitch Hall* was on that Mizzou squad.

Far less known than the above incidents is the time practically the entire University of Arkansas football team went on strike. In happened in January, 1912, and before diving into specifics, let’s take a wide-lens look at some of the most dramatic ways Razorback football was then so different:

  • Under the leadership of Hugo Bezdek, the program was coming off the most statistically dominant stretch in its history. From the start of 1909 to halfway through the 1911 season, Arkansas went 17-1 and outscored its combined opposition 617-42.
  • Touchdowns were then worth five points each.  Not only the 1912 were they worth six points.
  • It would be another two years before Arkansas joined the SWC as a charter member.
  • Its captain-elect, Dan Estes, would go on to coach at what’s now called UCA for 17 years. Today, Estes Stadium in Conway is named after him.

So, back to the strike: What exactly happened?

Just like with the strikes at Wyoming and Missouri, this student protest started with non-athletes. In Arkansas’ case, it started with the university administrators trying to put the clamps on an underground student-run newspaper called The X-Ray. This publication, helmed by 36 students, aimed “to correct university failings by condemning everything from campus litter to favoritism among discipline and scholarship committees,” Brady Tackett wrote for The Arkansas Traveler in 2012.

Another specific complaint levied by The X-Ray editors: “While we are too poor to keep our campus look neat at a nominal cost, we are able to build ten thousand dollar tracks and football fields that are never used.” Notably, the editors (who included their names on the paper’s masthead) included sons of members of the board of trustees, UA baseball stars and, apparently, Dan Estes himself.

This publication infuriated UA administrators, especially UA president John Tillman. It violated a 1905 law, prompted by the board of trustees, banning “unauthorized publications and assemblages.”


This was Part 1 of a two-part series. Go here to read the rest.


*The 2015 Missouri football team strike was inspired by a black student organization’s protests against racially charged incidents on campus and a cut to health insurance for graduate students. I don’t know if Hall, who is white, supported the protest or not. Not all the Mizzou players did, after all. One white player anonymously told ESPN: “As much as we want to say everyone is united, half the team and coaches — black and white — are pissed. If we were 9-0, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Missouri football has struggled mightily since the start of the 2015 football season, winning only three SEC games in that span and producing terrible Tweets like the below. It’s has about 1000-to-1 odds of winning the 2018 national championship according to some betting lines.

 

The Pine Bluff Native Whose Protest Rocked the College Football World: Part 2

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Below is the second act of my two-part series on Ivie Moore, an Arkansan sports pioneer who should be remembered.  

It cost all of them.

Eaton didn’t sympathize. Indeed, his reaction was the opposite of what the players hoped for, Hamilton recalled in a wyohistory.org interview:

 “He took us to the bleachers in the Field House and sat us down, and the first word out of his mouth was, ‘Gentlemen, you are no longer on the football team.’ And then he started ranting and raving about taking us away from welfare, taking us off the streets, putting food in our mouths. If we want to do what we want to do, we could [go] to the Grambling [College] and the Bishop [College], which are primarily black schools, historically black schools.

And so he–he just berated us. Tore us down from top to bottom in a racial manner.”

The players emptied their lockers that same day. They requested a future meeting with Eaton along with school administrators, but Eaton didn’t show up. In the ensuing weeks, Laramie became the epicenter of a national civil rights debate involving students’ rights, the power of the athletic department and free expression.

 “As the student and faculty groups sought to challenge the dismissals, the demise of the Black athletes began to garner support around the WAC and around the country.  The success of the football team and program guaranteed national exposure, evidenced by the arrival in Laramie of ABC, CBS, and NBC film crews,” Clifford Bullock wrote in a scholarly article for the University of Wyoming.

“On October 23, 1969, President Carlson and Coach Eaton held a press conference and announced an immediate change in Eaton’s rule regarding protests. This policy change would not affect, however, the Blacks already dismissed.  It was at this press conference that Sports Illustrated reported that President Carlson admitted that at Wyoming, football was more important than civil rights.”

Continue reading The Pine Bluff Native Whose Protest Rocked the College Football World: Part 2

The Pine Bluff Native Whose Protest Rocked the College Football World: Part 1

The story of Arkansan Ivie Moore, center, has largely been forgotten.
The story of Arkansan Ivie Moore, seated mid center, has largely been forgotten.

Ivie Moore will likely never meet Razorback Jonathan Williams. It appears Moore has hit some serious hard times down in the Pine Bluff area. For Williams, four decades younger, life in Fayetteville is ascendant. The All-SEC running back helped power one of the strongest Arkansas season finishes in decades and come August will headline a dark horse contender for the SEC West crown. God willing, he’ll be training for the NFL this time next year.

While the lives of Moore and Williams have little in common these days, they did intersect once. As college football players, both took brief turns in the spotlight as supporting characters in a much larger drama involving social movements sweeping the nation. Williams’ moment happened just a few weeks ago, with a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture captured on national television. Moore’s time came more than 45 years before, as one of the “Black 14” whose legacy is cemented in Laramie, Wyoming…


The late 1960s were a time a massive social upheaval in the United States. The Vietnam War and Beatles were at full blast, and in the span of three months in 1968 political icons Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Young Americans openly rebelled against authoritarian figures for a variety of reasons and sports presented no sanctuary from the winds of change. Basketball, track and football student-athletes participated in protests against racial injustices and Vietnams across the United States.

In October, 1969, one of the sports world’s most significant political protests sent tremors through the University of Wyoming, where Pine Bluff native Ivie Moore was starting at defensive back. Moore, a junior, had transferred from a Kansas community college and was part of a perennial WAC championship program that had in recent years beaten Florida State in the Sun Bowl and barely lost to LSU in the Sugar Bowl. In 1969, Wyoming got out to a 4-0 start, rose to No. 12 in the nation and was primed to pull off the most successful season in school history.

It never happened. Not after Mel Hamilton, one of the school’s 14 black players, learned about an upcoming Black Student Alliance protest in advance of an upcoming home game* against BYU. The year before, in Wyoming’s victory at BYU, some of the black players said the Cougars players taunted them with racial epithets, according to a 2009 Denver Post article. “The Wyoming players had also learned that the Mormon Church, which BYU represents, did not allow African-Americans in the priesthood.” Hamilton, Moore and the other 12 black players wanted to show support for the protest by wearing black armbands.

Their militaristic head coach, Lloyd Eaton, had reminded them of a team rule forbidding factions within the team and participation in protests. The black players met and decided it would be best if as a group they met with their coach to discuss what they felt was a matter of conscience. On October, 18, the day before the BYU game, they dressed in street clothes and walked to his office wearing the black armbands they had been considering for the game.  “We just wanted to discuss this in an intelligent manner,” “Black 14” member Joe Williams recounted in the Laramie Boomerang. “We wanted to play this game no matter what. We hadn’t even decided to ask permission to wear the armbands during the game.”

“It kind of scared me at first because I knew every one of the Black 14 could have played pro. I knew if we stood up it could damage our careers,” Ivie Moore said in Black 14: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football. “But I knew that at some point in time you’ve got to stand up for what you believe in.”

“And after thinking about it, I stood up.”

Click here for the second half of this story.