Black One Shot stages brevity and precision in response to the art of blackness, contemporary and/or prescient. At 1000 words a pop, these pieces divest from academic respectability to inhabit the speculative, ambivalent, irreconcilable ways of black forms, and move through the fires this time. Seditiously, we are object forward, conjuring up the necessary intimacy generated between a critic and their object and keyed to the channels and frequencies of blackness. We hold fast to the given/taken works, the cultural productions without reduction, the condition of knowing all-too-well, and the imagining of something otherwise. Object love in the time of pandemics and insurrections.
b.O.s. will run the course of summer 2020, come what may. We invite you to follow and share hard. Thanks to all the contributors and special thanks to Abram Foley, Aurelie Matheron, and Irenae Aigbedion of ASAP/J.
– Lisa Uddin and Michael Boyce Gillespie (Editors)
Can the black athlete speak? With Black 14 (2018), Darius Clark Monroe composes and contests discourses on race and sports in US media. The short documentary details the story of fourteen black student-athletes at the University of Wyoming (UW) in 1969. Referred to as the “Black 14,” these student-athletes were expelled from their nationally-ranked football program by their white head coach, Lloyd Eaton, because they wanted to protest the racist policies of the Mormon church by wearing black armbands during the team’s upcoming game against Brigham Young University. Their dismissal from the team and the revocation of their athletic scholarships sparked controversy, with on-campus protests and counter-protests capturing national media attention.1 The documentary revisits these moments, carefully emplotting the events into a sports and television metahistory about the significance and signification of insurgent black athletes and black public programming.
Monroe deliberately tells the Black 14’s story through the ample aired and unaired footage shot by television broadcast networks NBC and ABC News as well as programming from the black independently-produced television newsmagazine Black Journal. The mainstream outlets privileged white authorial voices; and the archival footage includes interviews with Coach Eaton, the governor of Wyoming, and various stakeholders at the university. ABC reporter John Davenport, for example, paints Eaton as a fatherly coach forced to sacrifice his good black players for his principles of fairness and equality (read, his white paternalism and liberal humanism). ABC footage from Wyoming’s homecoming game extends this dominant perspective. White spectators enthusiastically display their revelry and racism—unironically wearing armbands with Eaton’s name—in support of the festivities and the dismissal of the Black 14.
In sharp contrast, the Black Journal footage comes from an episode that examines the influence of student activism on black athletes that includes a segment dedicated to the Black 14.2 As public programming, “Black Journal alternately cited, critiqued, and celebrated other media representations, showing that the staff was keenly knowledgeable about the contributions of other media, especially the Black press, and aware of the implications of Black Journal’s location within a television flow that was often racist.”3 Monroe embraces Black Journal’s televisual strategies by similarly citing, critiquing, and celebrating media culture. In the documentary, ABC reporter John Davenport asks player Guillermo “Willie” Hysaw if he and the other black athletes are being influenced by outside agitators to make UW a test case. Hysaw responds: “I think this is typical, and if I might use the term, something a typical white person would say.” Intercutting between ABC and Black Journal footage, Monroe’s montage splices this “typical” perspective with the critiques made by the black journalistic countersphere.
The juxtaposition of white-oriented mass media and black produced programming reflexively rehearses for contemporary audiences the question animating Black Journal’s mediatic history: “what did it mean to be a Black program, inserted into the very white flow of public television, and television in general?”4 For Black Journal it meant trying to capture black voices and experiences in order to disrupt the racist and perfunctory ways in which black lives were represented on commercial television. Lead by executive producer and filmmaker William Greaves, their strategic vision, according to St. Claire Bourne, was: “Don’t be like white people and just say, ‘This is what so and so say.’ Try to get the Black people to say it.”5 In its observational mode, Black Journal’s “coverage of the black athlete relentlessly sought to expose institutionalized racism in both the college and professional sport industry” by letting black people speak for themselves.6 Monroe’s film intertextually confirms and contrasts the distinct televisual treatments, assembling and countering “typical” white media footage filled with racial bias with the players’ intimate conversations in black social spaces.7
Monroe’s historiographic redress touches on Black Journal’s alternative and radical aesthetic practices of “the recoding of the black image in television journalism.”8 As dominant media and ideology frames white men as legitimate authorial voices, Monroe produces a televisual reorientation devoted to the Black 14’s perspective. For example, Eaton unapologetically addresses the events of the Black 14’s dismissal to ABC, and, in response, Monroe counters Eaton’s statements with cuts to Black Journal footage of Hysaw, his fellow football players, and members of UW’s Black Student Alliance providing a detailed account of their expulsion from the team. Particularly, Hysaw underscores Eaton’s callous disregard for him and his fellow teammates as well as his former coach’s virulent racism when he lectures them that without him they would be on “negro relief” and that they cannot use the legislature’s money to demonstrate or protest and should take themselves to the “Morgan States” and “Gramblings,” historically black universities. Monroe’s deft negotiation of two journalistic historiographies enacts the reflexivity and criticism of independent black programming operating alongside and against mainstream media.
Monroe ends Black 14 with the kind of social consciousness constitutive of Black Journal’s programming. The Black 14 sit in the stadium where they were dismissed as a team, serving as a kind of tableau, as Hysaw’s voiceover prophetically explains:
“I’m going to meet Coach Eaton again. He might not be fifty-two years old. He might not be a football coach. But I’m going to meet him again, and from this experience I’m going to be prepared for the next Coach Eaton. And I’m going to solve it firsthand, you know. ‘Cause I made a mistake by sitting there and letting this man holler at me and my other Black brothers but I’d be damned if he walked in here now.”
The archival scene acts as a call that is not bound solely to an almost forgotten historical moment in which insurgent black sporting collectivity failed to elicit reform or change. Instead, this documentary embraces this failure to develop a critical black viewpoint on football’s racist history and black athletes’ political advocacy.
This is one of four essays from the tenth transmission of b.O.s. (Black One Shot). Read the other essays here:
Lisa Uddin is author of Zoo Renewal: White Flight and the Animal Ghetto (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), and has recent writing in the volume Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), ASAP/J, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Postmodern Culture. She’s here for the freedom.
Michael Boyce Gillespie is the author of Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film (Duke University Press, 2016). His recent work has appeared in Black Light: A Retrospective of International Black Cinema, Flash Art, Unwatchable, and Film Quarterly. He hopes that people are still outraged in November.
- The events captured national attention, in part, because they followed the actions of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and the call for a revolt of the black athlete by Harry Edwards and the Olympic Project for Human Rights.
- In his study on Black Journal, Tommy Lee Lott explains that the footage of the Black 14 was included in an episode devoted to the intersection of athleticism and Black student activism. See Tommy Lee Lott, “Documenting Social Issues: Black Journal, 1968-1970,” in Struggles for Representation: African American Documentary Film and Video, ed. Phyllis R. Klotman and Janet K. Cutler (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 89.
- Ibid., 86.
- Devorah Heitner, Black Power TV (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013), 85-86.
- St. Claire Bourne quoted in Heitner, Black Power TV , 86.
- Lott, “Documenting Social Issues,” 89.
- The Black Journal footage of the Black 14 at UW’s Black Student Alliance meeting consists of them discussing the events, their demands, and their concerns. There is a sense of a safe space for them to both express their convictions as well as their ambivalence. As Noelle Griffis explains, “William Greaves likened Black Journal to the communal space of the black barbershop.” See Noelle Griffis, “‘This Film is a Rebellion!”: Filmmaker, Actor, Black Journal Producer, and Political Activist William Greaves (1926-2014),” Black Camera 6, no. 2 (Spring 2015), 9.
- Lott, “Documenting Social Issues,” 93.