Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Maryland to honor former Syracuse star
By Andrea Adelson
Bravo, Maryland, for making the wise decision to try to make up for a mistake made 76 years ago.
The university will pay tribute to former Syracuse halfback Wilmeth Sidat-Singh when the teams play on Saturday, honoring a player barred from participating in their 1937 matchup because he was black.
The Sidat-Singh family will join Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson, Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross and Maryland pioneer Darryl Hill in an on-field tribute and recognition on the video board between the first and second quarters. Syracuse players will wear No. 19 decals on their helmets in his memory.
Sidat-Singh, a two-sport star in football and basketball, was banned from playing at Maryland because of segregation laws. He joined the Army after Pearl Harbor and was in the first graduating class of what later became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He was killed when his plane went down in Lake Huron on a training flight in 1943 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
In 2005, Syracuse raised his No. 19 jersey to the rafters at the Carrier Dome for his contributions to the university and its athletic program.
But the Sidat-Singh story was mostly lost to history until last year, when Maryland associate vice president/chief diversity officer Kumea Shorter-Gooden alerted Anderson to what had happened in 1937. Dave McKenna wrote a tremendous profile on Sidat-Singh and the injustice done to him at Maryland that is worth your time. In that piece, Lyn Henley, a Sidat-Singh cousin charged with keeping the legacy alive, said:
"This is something I've thought about my whole life, ever since my father told me about what happened to Wilmeth. Rightfully or wrongly, I've rooted against Maryland my whole life because of this. When I heard that after all these years, they would do the right thing, well, I just cried. You have no idea how important this is to my family."
In a statement, Shorter-Gooden said: "Today’s presentation really speaks to the leadership of our athletic department. This tribute is about honoring Wilmeth, but it also stands for so much more. We know Wilmeth's name, but there are so many African-Americans whose names aren't known who experienced similar incidents of racism. I hope, in some way, this can help with healing for all of them. And I see this as a reaffirmation of the university’s commitment to transcend its past and to be fully equitable, diverse and inclusive.”
Syracuse coach Scott Shafer praised Maryland for attempting to right a wrong made some 76 years ago.
"I talked to the kids about the fact that Maryland was doing a good job at kind of taking the better-late-than-never approach to honor the Singh family," Shafer said Wednesday during the ACC coaches call. "It happened to be the Syracuse football team, one of our own, one of our great former football players. You look at it and it's an opportunity for our kids to say, 'We have a great opportunity to do what we should have always been able to do as an African-American athlete and that's to play a game and to play a game in a college setting.
"So it's going to be a really good experience for our kids to go down there and play in College Park against a good football team, and also it's a teaching moment and an opportunity for our kids to look backwards and look at the history of our country and the history of our country's ugliness at times in the past and be part of righting a situation that was horribly wrong."