This week, a committee proposed that the University of Michigan remove Fielding H. Yost’s name from the campus ice venue after a review of his time in Ann Arbor. Yost famously refused to let a Black football player, Willis Ward, play against Georgia Tech in 1934.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Michigan and Georgia Tech were set to meet in the third week of the 1934 season. Georgia Tech administration would not let its team take the field as long as Michigan had a Black player on the team. Yost, who died in 1946, would cave to this request in exchange for Georgia Tech benching its own star end, Hoot Gibson, for the game.
Former Wolverine standout and U.S. President Gerald Ford was a friend of Ward’s with some accounts saying he threatened to quit the team because of the incident. He would later write in his autobiography that the decision to keep Ward out of the game was “morally wrong” on the part of Michigan.
“I went to Willis himself. He urged me to play. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘the team’s having a bad year. We’ve lost two games already and we probably won’t win any more. You’ve got to play Saturday. You owe it to the team.’ I decided he was right. That Saturday afternoon, we hit like never before and beat Georgia Tech 9–2.”
Yost spent 40 years at Michigan as a football coach and athletic director and is the winningest coach in program history, gathering victories in 83 percent of the team’s games. However, the committee says that the Ward situation does not appear to be an isolated incident and that his legacy should be reconsidered as a result.
“While we acknowledge that Yost had both successes and failures in his career, our historical analysis suggests to us that the benching of Ward was not an aberration but rather epitomized a long series of actions that worked against the integration of sports on campus,” the President’s Advisory Committee on University History said.
It was also stated that students who protested the Ward situation were expelled from the school based on the information given to Yost by a Pinkerton agent.
The committee is seeking public comment through June 7 before making a final recommendation to president Mark Schlissel on what should happen moving forward.
The topic of renaming buildings and removing monuments to some of the figures of Michigan’s past has been a hot topic lately. Some believe that Bo Schembechler and Don Canham’s names should be removed from athletic buildings given the findings of the WilmerHale report, which illuminated several decades of abuse from former doctor Robert Anderson.
Should Michigan remove Fielding Yost’s name from the Ice Arena?
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