Syracuse fans may remember David Byrd, a corner and track star who played at SU in the late ’90s. He was a standout high school athlete in upstate New York, and went on to play briefly in the NFL with both the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks. He spoke to FoxSports.com about the many instances of bullying/hazing he’s seen in football over his years. This is his anecdote from his time on the Hill.
“August 1995: I earned an athletic scholarship to Syracuse University. Fellow freshmen and I were on campus for three fun-filled days of triple sessions that did not include upperclassmen.
During freshman camp, I noticed a mentally challenged young man who was a huge fan of the university and its athletics and wanted to be as up-close and personal to our college football world as possible.
Once the upperclassmen reported, the pranks in the dorms began eliminating any possibility of sleep or peace of mind for us freshmen. I expected that. What I found most interesting was the antagonistic behavior directed toward this young man.
I was told he had been around the football team for years and had always been teased by the players. I was also informed that the ribbing made him feel like one of the guys, despite how angry it made him in that moment.
Years later, a young man who was part of the incoming freshmen class was referred to as “field hand” because of his tall stature, dark skin and extreme muscular build – implying that he would have made one heck of a slave. During meals, I vividly remember eruptions of laughter from the guys at training table, gesturing as well as making more pointed jokes about his physical appearance.”
Byrd holds an interesting place in SU history. He was one of three players who were stabbed at the shady night spot Sadie’s Place. Byrd, Giovanni DeLoatch and Duke Pettijohn were all victims in the melee. Byrd was stabbed twice in the back, twice in the neck and once in the leg. He was originally in critical condition, but eventually recovered.
There was an emotional moment when he returned to the team. He was on the sidelines for the Temple game, in a warmup outfit. He was announced over the Dome PA, waved to the crowd and got a huge ovation. Byrd said afterward:
“It was overwhelming support. I can’t begin to imagine that if this didn’t happen I’d really know the full effect of how Syracuse kind of takes care of its own, how they really look after people.”
In the wake of the Miami mess, it’s good to see some of the dysfunctional inner workings of football culture get aired out. With so many stories bubbling to the surface, clearly there are plenty of former players who were uncomfortable or have now become uncomfortable with some of that behavior. I think we can all agree that treating a mentally-challenged kid with respect is of utmost importance. But in this case it sounds like maybe the athletes thought they were making him part of the fraternity by teasing him like everyone else. Clearly, the “field hand” comment is in poor taste. It’s a very sensitive subject. But it’s fair to figure there were a lot worse terms thrown around by teammates in any locker room. I think it’s respectable Byrd is helping add to the conversation. But these incidents seem pretty tame compared to what the Miami mess has turned into.