Leveling the Playing Field
The Story of the Syracuse 8
Foreword by Jim Brown
From Leveling the Playing Field . . .
"In a society where choosing which side to root for often takes priority
over other forms of authentic discovery and engagement, it may be
tempting to sum up the story of the Syracuse 8 as a conflict between a
"racist white" football coach and a group of "militant black" student
athletes. The temptation is worth resisting. What little truth there is in that
characterization only tends to hide the complexity of a more compelling
human drama that touches not only on race and sports, but on generational
conflict, American cultural history, the ability of institutions to cope
with change, and the struggle of individuals for personal dignity."—Greg Allen, one of the Syracuse 8
David Marc is the author of numerous books, including Bonfire of the Humanities: Television,
Subliteracy, and Long-Term Memory Loss.
Book Description »[Close »]
Leveling the Playing Field tells the story of the African American members of the
1969–70 Syracuse University football team who petitioned for racial equality on
their team. The petition had four demands: access to the same academic tutoring
made available to their white teammates; better medical care for all team members;
starting assignments based on merit rather than race; and a discernible effort
to racially integrate the coaching staff, which had been all white since 1898.
The players’ charges of racial disparity were fiercely contested by many
of the white players on the team, and the debate spilled into the newspapers
and drew protests from around the country. Mistakenly called the "Syracuse
8" by media reports in the 1970s, the nine players who signed the petition
did not receive a response allowing or even acknowledging their demands.
They boycotted the spring 1970 practice, and Coach Ben Schwartzwalder, a
deeply beloved figure on campus and a Hall of Fame football coach nearing
retirement, banned seven of the players from the team. As tensions escalated,
white players staged a day-long walkout in support of the coaching staff, and
an enhanced police presence was required at home games.
Extensive interviews with each player offer a firsthand account of their decision
to stand their ground while knowing it would jeopardize their professional football
career. They discuss with candor the ways in which the boycott profoundly changed
the course of their lives. In Leveling the Playing Field, Marc chronicles this contentious
moment in Syracuse University’s history and tells the story through the eyes of the
players who demanded change for themselves and for those who would follow them.
6 x 9, 344 pages, 25 illustrations, notes, bibliography, index