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A Few Words Before I Go

By Sid Williams

TRANSFERRING TO HARVARD might have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. When I decided I had had enough of "nigger, know your place" academics and football at Drake University in Iowa, I foolishly thought that it might be possible for me to escape it by fleeing East. East where the "good" white people were. Now Harvard has proved to me what I had really feared all along: there are very few "good" white people and they are not to be found all in one location. Of course, some whites are more outwardly pleasant than others to black people, but I judge a man by his actions, not his appearance. I could care less if his smile is wide or if he's in the habit of regularly saying "hello".

I want to talk mainly about my athletic career at Harvard and why nobody knows my name here. Before I came to Harvard. I played in a much tougher football conference than the Ivy League--the Missouri Valley conference. I was considered to be a "great" football player. Local newspapers reflected this notion. In The Des Moines Register and Tribune of Sept. 5, 1966, Jack Wallace, the head coach at Drake said:

Sept. 5, 1966. "Future Great" "Williams is described by Wallace as a "future great." The head coach said that the frosh halfback played only one year of prep ball but has great potential because of his speed and size."

March 18, 1967 "Sidney Williams, a 205-pound freshman halfback from Chicago, has blossomed beyond expectations and Wallace said he could develop into an outstanding ball carrier.

April 5, 1967 "Williams--a real zipper--with 175 yards on the ground was the top rusher for the Bulldog offense."

Sept. 15, 1967 "...a formidable running back, Sid Williams. 'We knew next to nothing about Sid as a football player', said Jack. 'I found out he had played only one season for Hyde Park in Chicago. It's a big school, but it plays in a minor conference, and it doesn't take game films."

'But here was a big, strong young man, and I found he could run pretty fast, could high jump 6 feet, and that he was second in the city in the triple-jump. That made him a football prospect in my book.'

'Sid's one high school season had been in the single-wing--taking a direct snap from center,' said Wallace. 'But he really developed in spring practice and he's been even batter in our fall workouts. He has a chance to become one of the best running backs anywhere.'

The 6-foot, 210-pound Williams is last but,' says Wallace, 'not tremendously so. His moves and his strength are what make him a fine runner."

Oct. 1. 1967 "Wallace calls Williams one of the hardest runners he has ever had at Drake...'Sid has shown he can run very hard and we're working him overtime this week to get him ready for Northwest Missouri, coach Jack Wallace explained Sunday."

So it's clear that before I came to Harvard, many persons considered me to be a "formidable" football player. In fact, throughout my high school and Drake career I was always regarded as an exceptional athlete. Until I came to Harvard. I had always been a first-string player.

But why did I come to Harvard? Why did I leave a situation where I had established myself as the "super nigger" of the Drake backfield. Why? The answer could possibly be found in the same reasons why blacks left the South and came North. North where they felt they could finally be free men.

My answer is I just grew tired at Drake--tired of white coaches calling me "boy" when I told them my name was Williams or even Sidney. Tired of white coaches calling me "colored" after I repeatedly informed them that I would appreciate being called "black". Tired of white coaches telling me what I should major in, what courses to get in and what I should do if I wanted to graduate. Tired of white coaches telling me how I should dress and wear my hair and who I should associate with. Tired of white professors who would not dare to go into a black ghetto without a police escort, telling me why black people acted the way they did and what should be done to make them "Normal Americans". Tired of flakey white students who worshipped me as a "colored" athlete but never respected me as a black man.

Just as the black man came North in search of a promised land where he could be a man, so did I come to Harvard. I came to Harvard because I had had enough of the bad white people out at Drake. I wanted to go where the good white people were--the land of Garrison and Beecher Stowe. Where Fred Douglass escaped. Where Crispus Attucks thought life was good enough to sacrifice his life for Independence. To the school that educated DuBois and Trotter. Yes, I came to this land and its "greatest liberal institution". I came because I thought I could be a free man here, at least have more freedom that I was allotted at Drake. Nobody would stand in my way in my quest to be a free and total man. But just as so many blacks found when they came North that there is no sanctuary or preserve in this country where a black man can be free, where he can be himself and still be respected and honored for being so, I found that also is true at Harvard.

At Drake, I was shackled by a typical grant-in-aid athletic scholarship, a stagnant academic environment and a stifled social life. I came to Harvard--as most students do--primarily for personal advancement. First I wanted to equip my mind so that one day I might become an anthropological authority. I thought a Harvard degree would enhance my credibility in this pursuit. Now I feel it might have the opposite effect. Additionally, I came to continue my gridiron "super nigger" exploits.

Academically, I have done well. After my first semester's academic shellacking. I quickly found out that for the sake of grades I had a prescribed role to play in this institution. I would have to always give teachers what they wanted, and rarely what I truly believed, for my beliefs were usually in conflict with the professor. In classes taught by whites, like Pettigrew's class on Race Relations. I returned my thinking to 1962 and wrote as I thought Martin Luther King would have because I knew that that was what Pettigrew wanted. For most of the Afro-American courses I have taken I assumed the rhetorical style of H. Rap Brown.

I am not proud of my self-demeaning, two-faced accomplishments, but this behavior is just a microcosm of the group behavior the black man is relegated to in this society. For I am neither Martin Luther King nor H. Rap Brown. I don't think every white man is a devil, nor do I think every black man is an angel. I wasn't raised to think either way, nor has my life led me to believe otherwise. If that makes me "a Tom", so be it. If it makes me a black militant. I guess I'm one. I am convinced that the real me could not have made it through Harvard. The only courses at Harvard in which I could unmask my true feelings without fear of grade reprisals were scattered through the Anthropology Department.

Athletically, I had only unfortunate experiences at Harvard. One was meeting Coach John Yovicsin and his football staff, who successfully foiled any aspirations I had for gridiron achievement. Yovicsin and his staff could best be described as typically racist, reactionary conservatives--the kind of Americans who elected Richard Nixon in 1968. The following selected passages might provide more insight into "Yovy" and his relationship to me during the 1970 football season: Dartmouth Program Oct. 24, 1970 "It didn't seem inappropriate at his first press conference at a Boston hotel. Down at the end of a table was a long-hair, a beatnik with bushy hair and thick glasses--a stereotype. Yovicsin merely glanced at him.

"Tom Bolles, the athletic director, with a whimsical turn of mind, said to Yovicsin: 'That's one of your ends.'

"Yovicsin recalls, 'I almost fell out of my chair.'

"Of course, he wasn't a football player at all--just a writer from The Crimson."

'I have loved my years at Harvard.' says Yovicsin. 'I love Harvard more than Dick Harlow said I would. That zoo parade up in Harvard Square these days, that's not Harvard. The real Harvard is in the college, in the classrooms.'"

News and Views of Harvard Sports Dec. 1. 1970"...after beating Yale for the eighth time in his 14-year career at Harvard. "It takes everything a person can give to coach football, and even then you never get to the point where you feel you've done all you can." Yovicsin said the 14-12 victory over Yale was more important to his players than it was to him.

"...a Yale scout once wrote in his report: 'Harvard is a team that can be depended upon to play the percentages.' Now his critics said: Well, he's too aloof; he doesn't get close enough to the players. He wins because he has good material.'

'I couldn't be over-friendly with an individual or a group, say from the same House. I couldn't face the charge of favoritism.' he says. 'I couldn't let my hair down. There are two sides to the job, the nature of the man and the nature of the job.'

"Yovicsin's career at Harvard, from time to time, has been clouded by drop-outs. 'Sure, they bothered me,' he says. 'I tried to convince them they were making a mistake. I talked with them the way I'd talk to my sons. I asked them to seek other advice--from people outside football--and to add everything up. Sometimes, truthfully, you're better off when some of them quit.'

"Above all he has been honest. An honest coach, an honest man. That virtue is always its own reward."

Rutgers Football Program October 3, 1970 'But we have found senior leadership this year. These are the same fellows who were sophomores in 1968, and they remember that, too.'

'I'm more happy for the boys than anyone else...expecially the seniors,' he said."

"Yovicsin pinned his hopes on "a great senior class.'

UPON TRANSFERRING TO HARVARD in the fall of 1969, I went to visit "Honest Yovy" to tell him that I wanted to play football for Harvard. I showed Yovicsin my scrapbook from Drake to let him know that I was a football "super nigger". He asked me why I left Drake. I told him that I had had racial difficulties at Drake--that the coaches disapproved of my politics, heard and dress. Yovicsin assured me I would have no such difficulties of that nature at Harvard. Then he proceeded to tell me "some of my best friends are colored".

Yovicsin told me that he "even" had a "colored friend who was a psychiatrist", and that during his athletic career he had played on many teams with "colored boys". At Harvard, he said, some of his best players had been "colored boys". He then told me how he was sure I would like Harvard football and attending the school. After Yovicsin finished telling me about his "colored boys" and "colored friends" I asked him if it would be possible for me to meet the other coaches. He said it would, and directed me to the other side of the IAB where his assistant coaches had their offices.

The first coach I met was Jimmy Feula. Jimmy's scalp-revealing crewcut and voice reminded me of Gomer Pyle's sergeant. This was understandable, however; as I later found out. Feula had had a long Army career. After nearly breaking my hand with his handshake and a few minutes of small talk. Jimmy too asked me why I had left Drake. I repeated much of what I had previously said to Yovicsin. Then Feula told me how "fair and honest" he was and how he had had "many great colored guys" play for him at Harvard. After talking with "fair and honest" Jimmy, I went next door to meet the backfield coach, Tommy Stephens. Tommy also had a close crewcut, As I entered Stephen's office, he removed his feet from his desktop and stood up to shake my hand. Tommy told me that Yovy had just called him to say I was coming over. As he puffed on his cigar, he asked me how much I weighed, the times in which I had run the 40- and 100-yard dash, and what positions I had played. I told him I weighed 210 pounds, had been timed at 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Drake, and had run a 9.9 hundred as a senior in high school. I told him I had played halfback and fullback at Drake.

Stephens had me fill out a football form which inquired about my previous athletic career and asked the questions he had already asked. As I went about completing the form I noticed that Stephens was studying me, my clothes and the medallion around my neck. He seemed fascinated by my appearance.

When I handed Tommy the completed form, he asked me how I could get a football helmet on "with that beard". I told him I didn't think I would have any problems. He then looked down at my Navy surplus bellbottom trousers and asked me if I had been in the Navy. I answered, "no". Then he said, "Well, why then do you wear those weird clothes?"

I told Stephens that I was sorry he didn't like my clothes, but that I liked them and they were all that I could afford. I told him that if he had an aversion to what I was wearing. I would gladly go with him to J. Press or Saks Fifth Avenue--which were nearby--and wear anything he bought for me. Tommy asked me if I was "some kind of a wise guy". I said that I wasn't, but that I didn't think looks had anything to do with the way a man played football. Stephens replied. "Here in the Ivy League we like our players to be cleancut and respectable."

Leaving Stephens's office I began to walk down the hallway and passed a red, white and blue sign on a door which read. "America, love it or leave it". As I left the IAB I questioned if coming to Harvard had been the right move. I wondered if I had escaped anything at all.

DURING THE YEAR I met the rest of "Fair Harvard's" coaching staff and found them all to be of a similar nature to Yovicsin, Feula and Stephens. In the spring. I reported for Harvard's day of football where the newcomers to the Varsity are timed, and run through drills. I ran a 4.8 in the 40-yard dash. The other halfback prospects--Ted DeMars and Richie Gatto--ran the same time for the 40. But at 210 pounds I was larger than both, outweighing DeMars by 15 pounds and Gatto by 35 pounds. I was pleased with my time because I had been away from football for three years and was not in the playing condition I had planned to be in the following fall. The only thing that gave me cause for concern was the obvious difference in the way the coaches were favoring the white players as opposed to the blacks. Attention seemed to be focused on Gatto, DeMars and Eric Crone in particular. Black players like Rod Foster, Bill Craven, and myself seemed to receive little notice, and in many cases, blacks were totally overlooked.

Before I left for summer vacation in 1970. Ralph Jelic, the defensive coach who was the only coach who had spoken to me regularly during the year, asked me "what was going to happen in Chicago over the summer". I asked him what he meant. He said, "You know. Do you think there's going to be any trouble?" I asked him what he meant by trouble. He replied. "Are there going to be any riots or demonstrations?" I told him I didn't know. Then he said, "Well, if there in, I hope they let the police and the National Guard use their bullets and beyonets." I went home wondering what horrors lay in store for me in my upcoming season of Harvard football.

When I returned in the fall for football camp, I found myself as a fifth-string halfback. I was not surprised. I expected to be there because I had not played at Harvard and it wouldn't have been fair to place me above players who had proved themselves here. Still I knew that physically I had shown just as much, if not more, than the other new candidates at the halfback position.

Pete Varney, the huge All-Ivy tight end, was at the first string halfback position. Watching Varney going through drills made me wonder why they had ever switched him from tightend to halfback, and why, being new to the position, he was automatically given a first-string position. The coaches now more than in the spring were favoring certain white players, especially seniors. Seeing Varney, a senior, at halfback, and watching what appeared to be a deliberate passing over of more suitable players for first-string positions. I began to question the judgement and ability of Yovicsin and his staff.

Harvard's football camp was incredibly lax and low-key. It was nothing like the brutal, competitive camps I had been through at Drake and in high school. I couldn't believe that I was preparing to play college football. Drake's workouts were long and hard. Everyone was out to knock the hell out of each other, and to win someone else's position. I knew things would be easier at Harvard but not as easy as I found. Yovicsin seemed to be running a "gentleman's" workout as opposed to the do-or-die competition I had come to know. There was no way, really, to beat out a player ahead of you, and it appeared as though the coaches had structured it that way.

STILL I KEPT TRYING and eventually moved up to a third-string halfback position. Rod Foster and Bill Craven also moved up. Foster was alternating with Eric Crone for the first-string quarterback position and Craven was now a third-string flanker. Stephens, the backfield coach, continued to show no appreciation for my talents and hustle. Many players like Tom Miller and Varney would walk through plays and rarely went all out in drills. That would have never been tolerated from any player at Drake. Miller and Varney felt safe doing so because it was obvious to them and to everybody else that they had the positions won from the outset of camp.

Yovicsin, I found out, was derisively called "YoYo" by the players. Both the players and coaches considered him to be the laughing stock of the camp. One day Yovicsin called me into his office and told me that Stephens had suggested that I be moved to defensive end. That I was the only backfield man who had the "size, strength and agility" to shift to that position from the backfield. I asked Yovicsin why, if Stephens could see that I possessed these qualities, that they could not best be utilized at a halfback position. After establishing the record I did as a halfback at Drake, I asked why was I even being considered for any other position? And why was I not being given a sincere opportunity to beat out the other halfbacks? I admitted that my blocking was a little off and I was having some difficulty adjusting to a new system, but I said that if I was given a fair chance to carry the ball more and learn the plays, I was sure that eventually I would prove myself to be the best halfback.

Yovicsin didn't even pause to consider my questions. He just told me that if I wanted to make a "contribution to the team," I should move to defensive end. Reluctantly, I agreed to do so. Throughout the previous year. Stephens and I had exchanged many harsh words. I knew he hated my guts and I'm sure he knew the feeling was mutual. I was not surprised to learn that he had been the one coach strongly recommending my removal to defense--away from him.

My move to defense even surprised many of the defensive players. A couple came up to me to say that they "couldn't understand what had prompted 'YoYo to make such a decision," how I was the hardest offensive back to tackle. This was something I knew all along. I remained a fourth-string defensive end for about two days. Then I finally told Yovicsin that I could no longer comfortably remain there when I knew that I was a better runner than any of the halfbacks he had. Telling him my feelings made him mad. He told me that if I moved back to offense, it would have to be as a fullback. I agreed to do so.

Upon re-entering the backfield. I noticed that my arrival was not exactly her aided by my old namesis. Tommy Stephens. Again I was placed on the fifth string. Again I moved up to the third string, but no higher. I remained as a third-string fullback throughout camp.

The author is a senior in Dudley House. An injury kept him out of action during the 1971 football season. and was rarely called upon to carry the ball. Finally, in the last scrimmage against the University of New Hampshire, at New Hampshire, I was allowed to carry the ball behind the first-string line.

In the third quarter, after the Harvard offense had been sputtering all day, Yovicsin and the offensive coaches sent all the offensive black players in after a kickoff. Rod Foster was at quarterback. Bill Craven at flanker, Dave Robeson at tightend, and I was at fullback. Immediately we began to drive down the field. Foster was pinpointing passes to Craven and Robeson, running on his own when necessary, and handing off the ball to me in tight yardage situations.

When we got to the New Hampshire three-yard-line. Foster gave me the ball and I took it over for a touchdown. It was the first sustained drive Harvard had waged that day. One would have thought the coaches would be pleased with our performance and the touchdown. Returning to the sidelines, we received many congratulations from the players, but the coaches acted almost as if nothing had happened. They seemed to resent the fact that we had scored. Stephens said nothing to me. Finally Yovicsin forcingly said "good show".

Little did I know that that was the last chance I would be given to prove myself with the first-string offense. When it appeared evident that Foster had won the first-string quarterback role. Yovicsin began to act as if he had paid his debt to the cause of Harvard race relations. Now, how could he be anything but fair when he had a "colored boy" at the glory position calling all the shots.

Before the first game of the season against Northeastern, a black reporter, Joe Fisher, a writer for the Baltimore Afro-American, observed a practice session. Afterwards, he came up to me and said that he thought I was "the hardest runner on the team". Later I learned that Fisher, the only black sports reporter covering Harvard football throughout the season, asked Yovicsin in the weekly post-game coaches conference. "Why isn't Sid Williams playing?" After a while Yovicsin would just laugh it off, saying "Williams doesn't know our system" or that "we have so many good backs".

Against Northeastern, in the final minutes of the game. I ran for a touchdown which was called back. I carried the ball twice behind the blocking of the second-string line for a 7.5-yard average. It was the first and last opportunity I had to carry the ball in a varsity game for Harvard. I stayed as a third-string fullback throughout the duration of the 1970 season and was relegated to junior varsity football. During the season I constantly protested to Yovicsin, the coaching staff, the administration of the University and anyone else who would listen, for a fair chance to play varsity football. It was a chance that never came.

THOUGH I HAD MANY outstanding junior varsity games, and was frequently the leading rusher. I finally quit the team after gaining 180 yards against Princeton. I had seen players like DeMars and Crone advance to starting positions on the varsity, but I remained a lowly junior varsity, but I remained a lowly junior varsity player. From week to week. I would go in and ask the coaches why I was not being moved up to the varsity. They gave me every reason in the world but the truth. On different occasions, Stephens would tell me varying reasons why I was not advancing. First it was because I "didn't know the offense". Next time I was "stonefingered". Then I was "musclebound". Stephens told me he didn't like the way I carried the ball in the palm of my hand. Finally he claimed I didn't hustle and didn't have a "proper attitude".

Sometimes Stephens would forget what he had told me at our previous meetings and would pause to fabricate a new excuse. Once I asked the defensive coach. Ralph Jelic, why he thought I wasn't playing on the varsity, Jelic replied. "Because you don't lift your feet high enough off the ground when you run." Which told me that either Jelic knew nothing about running backs or that there was a conspiracy afoot to discredit my abilities. Football authorities do not share Jelic's opinion about my style of running. Paul Zimmerman, in his book A Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football, says. "Some qualities seem universal. The great ones usually run with their feet close to the ground--Sayers, Jimmy Brown, Jimmy Taylor, Joe Perry--they all did. Even Lenny Moore, who was noted for his high knee action brought his feet down when he got near the line. The reason is balance."

Countless times I pleaded with Yovicsin to let me play a quarter, or even five minutes, in a varsity game and carry the ball. I asked him to match me against the fullbacks in front of me in competitive drills. I suggested having each of is run at Gary Farnetti, then Harvard's premiere defensive player. Yovicsin refused all my requests, telling me "that isn't the Harvard way." He said he had made his "final decision" on the starting lineup.

There are some coaches who would not have agreed with Yovicsin's procedure. Joe Paterno, in his book Football My Way, discusses how many coaches would handle such a situation: "Alabama's Bear Bryant and Jim Owens of the University of Washington are of the hard-nosed school. They use what they call the 'challenge' system to stimulate competition. At Washington, for instance, if a second-teamer thinks he is better than the player ranked ahead of him by the coaches, he can challenge him to a contest. Usually it is brutal, sometimes bloody, one-on-one block and tackle combat. If the challenger beats his man, he gets the first-team job." This is the way it was done at Drake.

Paterno goes on to say. "All I want them to do is to pull up their pants, look the other guy in the eye and say. Let's go. Let's find out which of us is the better man'. I tell them either they can do it or they can't. What's the sense of worrying about it. Give it your best and if you can't do it, why you can't. If the other guy is better, then he should win." I guess many would say that this isn't the Ivy League, gentlemen's way of doing things. Perhaps the same could be said of equal treatment.

THE ONLY GOOD THING that came of Harvard football for me was when the players and a couple of the trainers came up to me and told me that they felt I had been wronged during the season and merited an honest shot at the varsity. At the final football banquet. Chuck Krohn--sitting at a table away from me--got up and said loudly to some old Harvard Alums sitting with him: "You want to know who the best back on the team is? He's Sidney Williams, that black guy sitting over there. And you know what? They wouldn't even let him play, but boy is he tough." When I heard Krohn, a Harvard halfback say this. I knew then that though I might not have impressed Yovicsin and his racist coaches, in the eyes of some of the players I had proven myself. And to me that is what the game is all about

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