Seventy-six years after a racial injustice unfolded in College Park, the University of Maryland will finally make amends.
In October 1937, the school refused to host Syracuse for a football game unless the Orangemen benched their star player: Washington native Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, who was black. Dave McKenna’s story over at Deadspin chronicled the incident, but the short version is this: At that time, Maryland not only forbade black athletes from playing sports, but didn’t even integrate until 1951 by court order. So the Terrapins told Syracuse, then ranked 17th nationally, that Sidat-Singh couldn’t play.
“The Terps never took any heat for their blackballing of a black player,” McKenna wrote. “The benching of Sidat-Singh was not treated like a story by the mainstream media, local or national, at the time or since.”
On Saturday afternoon, between the first and second quarter when Syracuse again visits Maryland, the school will finally recognize Sidat-Singh. Kumea Shorter-Gooden, Maryland’s associate vice president and chief diversity officer whom McKenna described as effectively a cousin of a cousin of Sidat-Singh, brought the issue to the attention of Athletic Director Kevin Anderson. A plan was quickly formed.
“Today’s presentation really speaks to the leadership of our athletic department,” Shorter-Gooden said in a news release, which also happened to misspell Sidat-Singh’s name several times and drew the faux-ire of ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, though Maryland later apologized for the error. “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 re-affirmation of the university’s commitment to transcend its past and to be fully equitable, diverse, and inclusive.”
Sidat-Singh’s story continued after college, when he enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor, graduated from the class that eventually became the Tuskegee Airmen and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery after losing his life in a plane crash during a training flight. Syracuse hung his No. 19 jersey at its Carrier Dome eight years ago, but Maryland never made amends until Saturday.
According to the release, Sidat-Singh’s family will receive “a Maryland football Wounded Warrior jersey in recognition of his military service” and will join Anderson, Syracuse Athletic Director Dr. Daryl Gross and Terps legend Darryl Hill, who in 1962 became Maryland’s first black football player, on the field for the tribute. Meanwhile, the Orange will wear No. 19 helmet decals in tribute.