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Huskies coach Jim Owens suspends four African American football players on October 30, 1969.
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On October 30, 1969, University of Washington Huskies coach Jim Owens (1927-2009) suspends four African American football players for what he terms lack of commitment to the team. All other African American players on the team refuse to travel to Los Angeles to play, and activists demand Owens's resignation. Under pressure from the University administration, Owens reconsiders and reinstates all but one player, but African American assistant coach Carver Gayton will resign.
Coach Jim Owens
Jim Owens was the UW football coach from 1957 to 1974. He took the Huskies to the Rose Bowl in 1960 and 1961. In 1968, the Oklahoma native was accused of racism in a report on his coaching. As a result of this, African American alumni athlete Carver Gayton was hired as assistant coach to help with communication. In the 1969 season, the Huskies were 0 and 6. When an African American player was punished -- unjustly in the view of his African American teammates -- for dropping the ball in a game, the other African American players asked for a meeting with Owens.
Instead, on October 30, 1969, Owens arranged to meet with each of 80 players on the team and asked them to commit to all elements of the football program. Owens suspended four players -- Gregg Alex, Ralph Bayard, Harvey Blanks, and LaMar Mills -- for the balance of the season because of their responses. Ralph Bayard said, "The question that was asked of me was, 'Can you give loyalty to me as an individual?' My response was that 'I was taught that that was something you have to earn and I've seen some things I don't necessarily agree with'" (Seattle P-I). One player learned of his suspension from another student on campus. The other three heard it on the radio.
Protest, Rage, Frustration
Protests against the suspension followed quickly. The next day, as the team was boarding buses to go to the UCLA game, 200 protesters prevailed upon the remaining eight African American players not to go. Players and their families received threats of violence. Owens's 17-year-old daughter Kathryn was assaulted in Laurelhurst by two white and two African American men. The suspended players retained attorney Gary Gayton who threatened to sue the UW if the players were not reinstated. The Husky Black Athletes Alumni Association demanded Owens's resignation. Husky fans were outraged at the athletes' behavior.
The Huskies lost to UCLA 57-14, the second-worse loss in their history. University President Charles Odegaard (1911-1999) promised an overhaul of football disciplinary practices. Athletic Director Joe Kearney Joe Kearny (1927-2010) persuaded Owens to review the suspensions.
Owens invited the players to meet with him, but he would not permit Coach Gayton or the players' attorney to be present. Owens reinstated all but Harvey Blanks on November 9, 1969. Coach Gayton promptly resigned, citing "inaccuracies and omissions" (The Seattle Times) in the official statement released by Owens.
In 1969, the Huskies went 1 and 9, beating only the Washington State Cougars in the Apple Cup.
Coach Owens retired from football in 1974. Only Bayard ever played for Owens again. Bayard later became Senior Associate Director for Compliance in the Husky Athletic Department. LaMar Mills became a Seattle attorney and deputy director of the Northwest Defenders Association. Greg Alex became a minister in Belltown. Harvey Blanks became an actor and director in motion pictures and on the stage.
Dan Raley, "Apple Cup '69: Right is Right," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 17, 1999, p. C-1; "'Inaccuracies, Omissions' Hit By Gayton In Resignation," The Seattle Times, November 10, 1969, p. 43.
Note: This essay was corrected on September 28, 2004.
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