The Syracuse 8: Then, Now and Forever Orange

Virtual Program Provides Powerful Conversation on Race and Reconciliation

As the nation grapples with issues of race and racial equity, a virtual event sponsored by the Syracuse University Office of Multicultural Advancement on Sept. 30 provided a powerful example of progress and understanding. “The Syracuse 8: Then, Now and Forever Orange,” was, as moderator Vera Jones ’84 described, not just a panel discussion, but a conversation of reconciliation between former Orange football teammates Greg Allen ’73 and the Rev. Joe Ehrman ’73.

Allen, who is Black, was a member of the Syracuse 8, nine Syracuse University football players who boycotted the team in 1970 after their petition for more equitable treatment was ignored. The boycott set off ugly protests; the players were banned from the team and ultimately sacrificed their football careers and any NFL prospects. Vilified for years, the Syracuse 8 are now viewed as pioneers among athlete activists.

Ehrman, who is white, recalled being largely apathetic to his Black teammates’ demands at the time, more annoyed that the team would suffer from the loss of their skills on the field and the distraction of the boycott. Ehrman now says his attitude was “a great moral failure on my part, as a man, a teammate and a brother.”

Both men talked about coming to Syracuse University in 1968. Allen recalled being picked up at the airport by Coach Ben Schwarzwalder, whose first words on the ride to campus included a warning against dating white girls, a message he later learned had also been delivered to other Black players. Another pivotal exchange happened after Allen attended a campus meeting to discuss the possibility of starting a Black studies program at the University. Campus organizers had invited a cross section of students, including Allen, as a student athlete. Shortly after, Allen was called to Schwarzwalder’s office, where the coach asked him if he wanted to be Black or he wanted to be a football player. He had to choose.

Ehrman came to Syracuse from Buffalo, New York, largely imprinted by his segregated upbringing. He says in 13 years of education, he never had a Black teacher or coach. “When people aren’t part of your experience, you see them as other,” he said. Ehrman went on to a career in the NFL, playing nine years with the Baltimore Colts and Detroit Lions. Losing his younger brother to cancer in 1978 was an inflection point in his life, prompting a reevaluation of his priorities. After his football career, he attended Western Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1985.

Ehrman refocused his life on urban ministry in Baltimore, to programs promoting societal change through sports and coaching, and began speaking out against the socialization of young boys and violence against women. In 2004, Syracuse University honored Ehrman with an Arents Award. In his acceptance speech, Ehrman acknowledged that the greatest education he received while at Syracuse University came from the actions of the Syracuse 8, acknowledging his own moral failing at the time.

One who took notice of those remarks was Allen, who had graduated from Syracuse, earned two master’s degrees, and forged a successful career as an insurance executive. He said he’s never regretted his choice to take a stand for what was right all those years ago, calling his actions “a gift that helped make Syracuse University a better place,” and impacted individual perspectives, such as Ehrman’s.  “Hearing Joe’s words, Joe didn’t change his mind, he changed his heart,” said Allen.

Led expertly by moderator Jones, a former Syracuse University basketball player, WNBA commentator, and motivational speaker and author, the conversation was emotional for all participants. Ehrman repeatedly mentioned being moved by comments from Allen, who called the experience “one of the greatest evenings of my life.”

One consensus: real change takes work.  “We all have implicit biases but we don’t have to accept them,” said Allen. “We can challenge them.”

To honor the courage and sacrifice of the Syracuse 8, please consider a gift to the Syracuse 8 Scholarship Fund, which supports Black and Latino/a students at Syracuse University. To make a gift, visit