Owens statue at Husky Stadium, University of Washington: Carver Gayton reflects

  • By Carver Gayton
  • Posted 9/19/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5745

In October 2003, a statue of former Husky head coach Jim Owens (1927-2009) was placed in front of the Husky Stadium in Seattle. The statue renewed a longstanding controversy surrounding Owens. Owens coached the Huskies from 1957 to 1974. He led three teams to the Rose Bowl, but was also at the center of racial turmoil and accusations of bigotry. In part as a result of these racial tensions, Carver Gayton, an African American UW graduate who had played on the victorious 1959 Rose Bowl team, was hired in 1968 as an assistant coach. Gayton was thus in an excellent position to observe the events surrounding Owen's suspension of four black athletes on October 30, 1969. In protest of how Owens handled this episode, Gayton resigned as assistant coach. This is Carver Gayton's account of these events, written in 2004.

Why the Fuss About a Statue?

The primary problem with recent media accounts about erecting a statue of former University of Washington Head Coach Jim Owens at the U. of W. is that the reporting has been in sound bites. Coverage has not delved into the broad context as to why the statue conjured up so much deep-seated emotion, especially within the African American community.

To date no in-depth analysis has been made by the general media that provides an accurate portrayal of the painful story behind the symbolism of the statue. News stories pointed out that many key individuals involved are unwilling to talk about the statue or the suspension of the four black athletes from the U of W football team in 1969, which many believed to be the primary issue of contention.

The fact remains, however, that there are reams of articles from the local and national press, that discuss the '69 suspensions at the time they occurred, as well as many articles regarding connected incidents that go back years before that point in time. Research and analysis of such information would give one a very accurate picture of why, after 34 years, there was such anger within the black community over the erection of the statue. Many whites as well as some blacks have argued that the anger was not justified and that Coach Owens’ winning record warranted the statue. My analysis here, I hope, will give a clearer understanding why a critical mass of blacks in Seattle considered the statue as a slap in the face of black athletes who were the victims of bigotry during the Owens era.

My Connection with Husky Football

My connection with Coach Owens and the Husky football program goes back almost 50 years. I was recruited to the University of Washington to play football by head coach Darrell Royal in 1956 and played freshman ball that year. In 1957, after Royal’s departure to the University of Texas, Jim Owens was hired. Owens immediately initiated a rugged and disciplined approach to training and off campus deportment that was unprecedented in the history of Husky football. Some players hated it; others, like me, welcomed the challenge.

At the beginning of our ’57 season during an August afternoon session of one of our two-a-day practices, Coach Owens became very angry and disappointed in the progress of our practice that afternoon. It should be noted that the temperature was 90 degrees with a humidity level close to 90 percent. After an hour and a half lackluster scrimmage, he had the team go through a series of continuous start and stop sprints that took a least another two hours. We were allowed no water during the practice. Few of us remember exactly how long it lasted. That practice session is now known as the infamous “Death March.” By the end of the afternoon I had lost close to 15 pounds, many players fainted, at least six were taken to the hospital, and predictably, a number of them quit the team. (A very similar event, depicted in the book The Junction Boys by Jim Dent, took place at Texas A and M a few years earlier under Coach Bear Bryant where, coincidentally, Coach Owens served as an assistant).

Of those who participated in the Death March, I was one of the five remaining players who became members of the 1960 Rose Bowl team. That one incident was a primary contributor to the myth and legend of Jim Owens. In many ways I believe it was a metaphor of how he approached not only football but life. One had to “pay the price” in order to succeed. Years later, however, one of Coach Owens’ top assistants told me that Owens regretted how he conducted the Death March but never expressed his feelings to the players. Bear Bryant on the other hand apologized directly to team members for the “Junction Boys” incident at Texas A. and M. Many of us who endured the “march” considered our survival as a badge of courage and determination.

The following year I played the entire season with a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder. Chains and leather straps held my arm in the shoulder socket during practices and games.  At the beginning of the second game of the ’59 season, I tore the ligaments and cartilage in my knee, and was considered out for the season, but re-injured the knee at least four more times over the ensuing two and a half months trying to get back into the line up. I played in the Rose Bowl but my knee was at less than 50 percent of its normal strength. The personal pain and disappointment, however, were wiped away, because I played in the first Rose Bowl ever won by the University of Washington. That group of approximately 50 young men is regarded by most as the best football team in the history of the University. The other blacks on the team included George Fleming, Ray Jackson, and Joe Jones; an extremely dedicated and gifted cadre of running backs.

The following season I asked Coach Owens if I could be a graduate assistant coach for the team and he agreed. I became the first African American graduate assistant football coach in the university’s history, and contributed in that capacity to another successful Rose Bowl victory season. I was very grateful to Coach Owens for giving me that opportunity.

I mention all of the above accounts of my early connections with that great team and Jim Owens to indicate that I was a true believer in the Jim Owens approach to football. I was a blood and guts ball player and proud of it. NO ONE could ever question my dedication and courage as a player. I will forever be bonded to that group of men — each and every player. The magic of that team will live on.

Events of 1968

In early 1968 "demands," including "… the hiring of a black coach or administrator" were made by 14 black UW athletes because of alleged discriminatory practices within the Athletic Department. A Sports Illustrated article in the early summer claimed that discrimination existed in the Husky football program of Coach Owens even in the Rose Bowl year of 1963. As a result of the charges, UW President Charles Odegaard (1911-1999) appointed the Hammer Commission to investigate the allegations. The findings of the commission led to the recommendation that a black assistant football coach be hired. The recommendation was publicly supported by Coach Owens.

In the late spring of 1968, I was contacted by Joe Kearny (1927-2010), the Assistant Athletic Director, to determine my interest in becoming an assistant football coach under Jim Owens. Owens wore two hats, one as Athletic Director and the other as Head Football Coach. At the time I was living the San Francisco Bay area and working for the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company. I was somewhat aware of the racial unrest that was taking place on campus, but expressed interest because of my desire to come home after being away for five years and because of the challenge of coaching the Huskies. 

Looking back I should have questioned the convoluted approach of Joe making the initial contact with me rather than Coach Owens, since I had been a player and coach under him. I have my own assumptions but nothing more. The fact remains, I accepted the job offer after a great deal of discussion with a number of friends and family. I obviously had some trepidation in view of the volatility of the situation on campus.

During the spring and summer of 1968 there was racial tension throughout the United States particularly on college campuses. The “black power” movement was in full swing and was inflamed by the assassination of Martin Luther King in April of that year.  It is important to note that although the black football players on the U. of W. campus were affected by the climate of the times and obviously sensitive and on guard regarding the allegations of race discrimination within the athletic department, they were not; however, actively involved in the racial politics taking place within the campus or in the Seattle community during the entire time I was employed within the athletic department.

Assistant Football Coach

It was within that charged atmosphere that I moved to Seattle with my wife and three small children in August 1968. My duties as assistant football coach started immediately after I arrived. My employment package also included the titles of Assistant Track Coach, Counselor, and Assistant to the Vice President for University Relations, Bob Waldo. Despite the titles, the overwhelming amount of my time was devoted to the football team. The next four months were extremely time consuming with coaching, individual and group counseling sessions with black and white ball players, and recruitment activities. Working with the U. of W. Black Alumni Club, under the leadership of my close friend and fellow 1960 Rose Bowl team mate Joe Jones, was also of priority interest. A wide variety of community events with the club and the black athletes took place, which went a long way toward connecting the athletes with the local black community. The club also played a major role in recruiting black athletes from throughout the country to the University. With all of these activities, a typical day during my 15 months with the Athletic Department would be from 7 a.m. to1 a.m., seven days a week.

Although the season ended with a disappointing 3-5-2 losing record, there were indicators that the situation was beginning to move in a positive direction. Harvey Blanks, the very talented and outspoken running back for the Huskies, stated in a November 12, 1968, article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Dave Dupree that “When things that got me down last year start getting me down now, I can go to Coach Gayton. He had a profound effect on me, the other blacks and all the players. His presence is enough to assure us that if everything is not all right now, it will be pretty soon.” Georg Meyers, Sports Editor of The Seattle Times said in his April 3, 1969 column that of the 45 letters of intent signed that spring, 10 were from black athletes. He went on to say, “It is mentionable because a year ago this month, national publications labeled Washington as a school whose Negro alumni advised black athletes to shun.” Meyers added, “Gayton … shrugs off credit and delivers no lecture of the startling Washington success in recruiting among Negroes.”

Another indicator of positive change took place toward the end of spring drills in 1969. Several of the coaching staff complained that we, as a staff, were being too easy on the ball players. They said that the way we were carrying out our responsibilities as coaches was not in the tradition of hard-nosed Husky football. They went on to say that the black players in particular were being coddled. I took issue with that perspective, not only because it was a direct reflection on my role, but because I considered it grossly inaccurate. I explained further that I was fulfilling the role that I was hired to do, which was to counsel the black athletes. To Coach Owens’ credit, he made it clear during the meeting that he firmly supported me and the job I was doing and that the program was going in the right direction. He said that he intended to stay the course. The two coaches who were the most vocal during the meeting regarding these concerns left the program before the beginning of the 1969 season. I did not know whether they left on their own volition or if they were asked to leave. Nor did I have a full account as to why they left.

Although I was flattered by the positive newspaper accounts of progress being made and the apparent firm commitment by Coach Owens to maintain the direction being taken to improve race relations in the athletic department, I never indicated during my months with the department, that the racial climate was at a point where all involved could relax their efforts. Nevertheless, I was encouraged during my first year on the job that important progress was being made. I was looking forward to building on those successes with enthusiasm. The gnawing concern in the back of my mind was that my agreed-upon role of bridging the communications gap between the black players and the coaching staff, on its face reflected a dysfunction within the Athletic Department. I rationalized what I was doing by considering the role temporary, until a more trusting culture could be established within the department.

The positive local press coverage concerning changes taking place in the football program was clouded by a September 1, 1969, article in Sports Illustrated. Reporter John Underwood wrote a two-part series on beleaguered college football coaches throughout the nation facing rebellious players in general, but specifically targeted blacks. One of the programs highlighted was the University of Washington's. Underwood wrote: "Owens hired one of his former players, Carver Gayton, a Negro, to serve as coach and intermediary, and relinquished much of his direct authority over black football players to Gayton. Gayton soon had more say than any four assistant coaches, Bud Wilkinson or Bear Bryant." The thought of me having that kind of control of Coach Owens, of all people, was ludicrous. There was no indication, in the article, as to the source of the poisonous perspective. Clearly there was some mischief afoot from either disgruntled assistant coaches, downtown boosters, or both, concerning the changes taking place in the program. There can be no doubt that the coach was livid after reading the statement. Coach Owens and I never discussed the article. I sincerely believe that the reporter's assertion helped set the stage for the traumatic events that took place toward the end of the season. Coach Owens would, indeed, make sure everyone knew who was in charge of the program.

 A Triggering Incident

The football team continued their losing ways throughout the first two months of the 1969 season. Many of the players, both black and white, became disgruntled and the coaches were frustrated as well. Late in the evening on October 29 I was asked by several black football players to talk with them about a coach taking “unfair” disciplinary action against Landy Harrell, one of the black running backs, during that afternoon’s practice. The discussion evolved to a point where a number of the players wanted to boycott the team. In essence, I explained to them that in my mind the incident as described to me did not justify a boycott. Many were not placated, and as a result, I felt the intensity of the discussion warranted my passing on what transpired to Coach Owens. I talked it over with the coach that evening, and at the time he seemed to take the information in stride, without any outward display of emotion one way or another. I on the other hand was very disappointed that I was not able to reach common ground with the players on the matter, as had been the case regarding so many similar incidences over the previous two seasons. Anger, strain, and frustration all were elements that led to the precipitous decision Coach Owens made the following afternoon.

The next afternoon, after a team meeting convened by the Coach failed to indicate whether a boycott in fact was going to take place, a very angry, flushed faced Coach Owens called a meeting of university officials including the Assistant Attorney General, Jim Wilson, the Faculty Representative to the Pacific Coast Conference, Harry Cross, the Vice President of Student Affairs, Al Ulbrickson Jr. (as I recall), and Joe Kearney, the Athletic Director, among several other officials of the University whom I cannot recall.  The Coach commenced to describe the “crisis” and outlined what he intended to do to resolve it, which was basically to present a loyalty oath to each one of the 80 players. Considering the way he led the meeting, it was clear that he wanted to have witnesses for what he was about to do. It was by no means an information gathering session.

I was in complete disbelief as to what was going on. I blurted out that it was ridiculous to have a written loyalty oath, as Coach Owens initially proposed. Harry Cross the Faculty Representative and a School of Law Professor expressed the same opinion. Owens then said he would ask each player to respond orally to a loyalty oath and then left the meeting and proceeded to start the process on the field of Husky Stadium. I was in complete shock. I had no prior knowledge of the subject of the meeting. From the expressions of most of the people in attendance, they were as surprised and befuddled by Coach Owens’ actions as I was.

Coach Owens confronted each player individually and demanded that they pledge 100 percent unconditional loyalty to him, the team, and the university. No other individuals were present to witness the one-on-one conversations. The upshot was the suspension of four black athletes, which surprised, angered, and shocked me. The four suspended players were Harvey Blanks, Ralph Bayard, Greg Alex, and Lamar Mills. The action was not consistent with how I believed Coach Owens was attempting to deal with the black athlete situation during my two-season tenure.

Regardless, I felt compelled to resign in protest of how the young men were suspended. The loyalty oath at best was ill advised and at worst demeaning. Additionally, the way the suspensions were carried out had the effect of undermining my relationship with the athletes. The fact that I was kept out of the loop regarding key decisions concerning their future status resulted in the communication lines between me and Coach Owens being so damaged that I could not carry out my role in the manner agreed upon when I first arrived. Additionally, all of the four athletes suspended were among the most intelligent and reflective thinkers on the team. Three of the four were also among the most soft-spoken, at least I suspect, up to the time they were asked to give a loyalty oath.

The Loyalty Oath: "A Suicidal Impulse"

Georg Myers, the highly respected and insightful Sports Editor of The Seattle Times, in his November 2, 1969 column had the following comments regarding Coach Owens’ loyalty oath venture: “[The loyalty oath] … reflected almost a suicidal impulse” He added that It is not inconceivable that some players with reservations as to Owens and his program felt constrained to pledge 100 per cent.” He went on to say that “It was an enterprise open to many avenues other than truthful expression of total loyalty.  There is no evidence that Owens said that anyone who faltered in the pledge would be sacked.”

He pointed out “Owens suspended the four, and all were black. It was not surprising that black discrimination became the outcry.” As Myers implies, the oath did not instill loyalty to the university and the program. It engendered fear and devalued truthfulness. The whole process was built upon a disingenuous foundation.

Pressure and Fear

Anticipating the possibility of my resignation, Joe Kearney, the Athletic Director, said that he would “promote” me to Assistant Athletic Director if I did not resign from the football staff. Additionally, Joe confided in me that he would have fired Jim Owens over the suspensions, but was fearful that he in turn would have been fired as a result of pressure from influential downtown contributors to the University. Joe added, "If this conversation becomes public I will deny it ever took place." 

This was not an observation without significant merit. Don Hannula, a Seattle Times reporter, gave credence to the university administrator’s fears in his article “The Longest Saturday,” December 14, 1969. He said Coach Owens met with the very influential Husky Quarterback Club, the day following the 57-14 defeat of the Huskies by UCLA, which was boycotted by all of the black football players after the suspensions. (The players and I remained in Seattle.) Hannula observed that “Coach Owens was wildly cheered by the group including many previously asking for his head. When Owens was introduced the following weekend before the Stanford game, Husky stadium erupted with the biggest and most emotionally charged ovation of the season.” Those two incidents surely proved to university officials who had any thoughts of firing Coach Owens over the treatment of the black athletes, that it would be an exercise of futility. Overnight Coach Owens’ power and influence became more formidable than ever.

I entered the Husky field with Coach Owens before the Stanford game began when the thunderous applause for him nearly shook the rafters of the stadium. Never in my life have I felt so alone. That moment, however, emboldened me to maintain pride in myself and to move forward in ways that I believed would be in the best long-term interests of the student athletes and the University of Washington.

On November 10, all but Harvey Blanks were reinstated with the team after my brother Gary Gayton, an attorney, and his law partner Ron Neubauer filed a suit against the university on behalf of the players. Coach Owens said he decided to “… review the suspensions because of indications there were misunderstandings on both sides.”  I announced my resignation the same day citing a “communication chasm” between me and the coach resulting from the suspensions, which in effect had “nullified” my role within the Athletic Department, and the fact that Harvey Blanks remained suspended.

The crisis led to an emergency meeting called by of the entire University of Washington Board of Regents and President Charles Odegaard. It took place the Sunday afternoon after the suspensions and was held at a business building near Seattle University. The meeting was not disclosed to the press or the public. Jim Owens and I were invited to give our individual perspectives as to the events that led to the suspensions and any other information that we felt was relevant to the matter. It was a very emotional meeting to say the least. As I recall, Coach Owens and I and participated in the discussion for several hours. The focus of the session was on gathering facts. I do not recall any value judgments or conclusions being made by the regents during the course of the meeting.

Violence and threats resulted from the events precipitated by the actions of the coach. The black players were threatened. Coach Owens’s teenage daughter was hit in the face near the Owens home by an unknown assailant. I received letters, postcards, and phone calls from throughout the nation threatening my family and me. Tension, fear, and anger were pervasive within the black and white communities of Seattle. It was an unprecedented time in the history of the city, which, for many on both sides of the issue, is still painful to discuss.

What was transpiring within the Husky football program was not unique to the University of Washington. Black grid boycotts took place that November at the Universities of Indiana, Minnesota, and Wyoming among others. Some observers have made the point that the U.of W. situation influenced black players at other schools to boycott. I consider that as mere conjecture. The social and political climate across the country was ripe for the kind of upheavals that took place in college athletic programs. What was unique about the U of W football program was that during the tenure of Jim Owens, documented racial issues flared up within his teams on a continuous basis from at least 1963 through 1971. I am not aware of any other major college program in the nation where such a pattern existed for so long. With such a record, even the most unbiased of observers would logically conclude that Coach Owens, for whatever reason, did not have the capability and /or commitment to work effectively and earnestly with a wide array of black athletes over a protracted period of time.

The Truth Sometimes Hurts

President Charles Odegaard established what was called the University of Washington Human Rights Commission in April 1970, to investigate charges of racism within the Athletic Department. The commission was chaired by Professor Luvern Rieke of the U. of W. Law School. and was composed of seven faculty members, 12 administrative staff and eight University students. I was also a member of the commission. As the commission was deliberating, racial conflict arose again within the football program. Although the 1970 season ended with an admirable 6-4 win loss record, the best since Owens’ 1966 season, four black athletes resigned from the team stating that “The racial practices of the coaching staff have forced us to the point where we can no longer tolerate the playing conditions imposed upon us.” The four included Mark Wheeler Washington State “back of the year” from Seattle Prep and all-coast cornerback and future All-American Calvin Jones whom I recruited to the university from Balboa High School in San Francisco in 1969. This resulted in 40 equal rights and other organizations announcing a boycott of University of Washington sports programs, stating they could no longer advise black athletes to compete at the school  (The Seattle Times, January 12, 1971) The organization was called “The Coalition of Equal Opportunity Football.”

This latest turn of events led Georg Myers of the Times to make another cogent observation in his January 17, 1971 column. “…the administration -- meaning [President] Odegaard and/or the regents -- might fire Owens. That would be the most explosive course, the least palatable to administrators who believe 'cleaning house' is the only solution in the athletic department. The curbstone version of that contingency would be: It’s Odegaard or Owens. And it might be. It all adds up to a gloomy prospect, that is because the truth sometimes hurts.”  

The Human Rights Commission appointed by President Odegaard, issued its report in late January 1971. Among its recommendations included the firing of Coach Owens and Athletic Director Joe Kearney, the hiring of a black assistant coach and the appointment of a black to be an assistant athletic director. The Board of Regents rejected the recommendations to fire Owens and Kearney.

As I implied previously, I doubt that the regents seriously considered the commission’s recommendation to fire Coach Owens, regardless of the veracity of the Commission’s findings. I suspect that in their view the negative political implications of them supporting the commission on this matter were too great. Firing the Coach would have surely triggered pressure from powerful contributors and supporters to question the leadership of President Odegaard and quite possibly the leadership of the regents themselves. The politically expedient route they took worked. There was no general public outcry against the regents’ decision to reject the commission’s recommendation to fire Owens and Kearney, except in the black community. The other high level recommendations were supported by the regents: Ray Jackson, my friend and 1960 Rose Bowl team mate, was hired as coach and Don Smith, a former Seattle sports writer and A T & T executive, was appointed Assistant Athletic Director.

Calvin Jones, the star defensive back who quit the team at the end of the 1970 season, went to Long Beach State College, was settled in the community and was preparing to play for Long Beach in the fall of 1971. Jones said in an October 12, 1972, University of Washington Daily article that he was convinced that his decision to leave the university was the right one. He pointed out that “If it meant that Don Smith and Ray Jackson got hired, then maybe that was what it took to bring about change.” In the summer of that year the newly selected assistant athletic director, Smith, contacted Jones to advise him that Coach Owens wanted him back on the team “with no strings attached.” Negotiations involving Smith, Owens and my brother Gary sealed the deal with Jones. Jones came back to the U. of W. to star for the Huskies and then moved on to the pro ranks and excelled as a standout defensive back for the Denver Broncos. After graduating with a BA from the University of Washington he went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree at Harvard University and is currently a pastor of the church in San Francisco where his father formerly presided.

The hiring of Smith and Jackson and the subsequent return of Calvin Jones went a long way toward easing the racial tensions within the football program. Whether justified or not, true consensus within the black community that the athletic department had turned the corner for the better did not take place until the departure of Jim Owens in 1974.

The Statue at Issue

My overview, I hope, provides a backdrop as to why the proponents of erecting a statue in the image of Jim Owens ran into a maelstrom. Before a decision was made regarding the statue, university administrators and supporters needed to have a better understanding of the lingering anger that existed in the African American community before launching the campaign. A very positive reconciliation meeting between former players and Coach Owens took place two days before the October 25, 2003 USC game. I was very pleased to hear that during the meeting he expressed regret for what pain he may have caused in the lives of black athletes in the past; however, it was unfortunate that the meeting, along with his expressions of regret, took place only days before the unveiling rather than months earlier. Such an approach could have lessened considerably the possibility of a public outcry.

Over the years, a few important reasons why so many people on both sides of the issue have been so reluctant to speak out include: 1. It revisits a very painful time in their lives and they want to move forward; 2. There is fear among many prominent moderate blacks that if they express what may be perceived as a negative view in the eyes of the white power structure on this issue, they would retaliate against them and their professional careers. (Past instances of such retaliation are real); 3. Husky football players, both black and white, do not want to damage the bonds they established as team mates.

The admonitions of some very well meaning and intelligent blacks, who stated that we as a people have bigger fish to fry rather than protest the unveiling of a statue is a legitimate concern. There is no question that there are currently major problems in the African American community that must be addressed, especially those that impact our youth, i.e., drug use, gang violence, limited entry into institutions of higher education, etc.  Having strategies to address these issues effectively are fundamental to the survival of our community and need long-term commitments. However, those African Americans living in Seattle who regard the statue issue as insignificant are either relatively young, new in town or were incommunicado during those years of turmoil on the U of W campus. It is important for them to take note of the words of Santayana, “Those who do not learn from the past are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past.”

The racial issues that emerged during the Owens years were not insignificant. Much of what many individuals take for granted regarding the large percentage of black athletes currently on U of W teams, the wide variety of academic and support programs for students of color, and the number of minority faculty and staff, are the indirect results of the confrontational events that surrounded the athletic department during the tenure of Jim Owens more than three decades ago. The high visibility athletic programs and the issue of race led the university to examine other aspects of university life where inequities existed. The current results are mixed but certainly far and away better than they were in 1969. With regard to the athletic department’s current programs, race is for the most part a non-issue especially in terms of access, recruitment, and playing time of athletes, all of which were major concerns in 1969.

As to the viability of having additional reconciliation meetings over the statue matter, it is my view that the issue be put to rest and move forward. That does not mean that we forget what transpired 34 years ago. We all must be vigilant regarding such matters. As was indicated before, I am very pleased that Coach Owens expressed regret for what happened to Black athletes during his tenure. I do not profess to know Jim Owens well, but I do know that it took a tremendous amount of courage, within the context of what I have observed of his personality, for him to apologize to his former players at the Homecoming Game in October 2003. Making what I am sure he considers as a very private statement in a public forum is not part of his make up. It had to have been a gut-wrenching experience for him.

No one admired Coach Owens more than I; however, I could not stand by him after that hellish cold and rainy October evening in 1969 when he justified the suspension of four young African American athletes because they would not swear by an ill-conceived loyalty oath. For years I was waiting for a sign or gesture to allow myself to declare that the wounds had been finally healed. Jim Owens provided that gesture on October 25, 2003 with a heart-felt apology to his players for the pain he may have caused them before 72,000 Husky fans, who responded with a resounding standing ovation. The irony of that day was that exactly 34 years earlier; a packed Husky Stadium gave Coach Owens a deafening ovation for suspending some of the same players he was apologizing to in October 2003. Although I did not applaud for Coach Owens in 1969 I was compelled to do so in 2003, because his gesture that day symbolized to me the end of one of the excruciating sagas in the history of Husky sports.


With regard to the four players suspended from the team in 1969 (Greg Alex, Ralph Bayard, Harvey Blanks, and Lamar Mills), it is of value to note the following: Greg is a well--known and highly respected minister in downtown Seattle, and also serves as a spiritual advisor for the athletes within the University of Washington Athletic Department. Greg approached the Athletic Department with the idea of a reconciliation meeting with Coach Owens months before it actually took place in October 2003. Ralph Bayard was also at that meeting. Ralph currently serves as an executive with the Casey Family Foundation in Seattle and previously served as Senior Associate Athletic Director within the U. of W. Athletic Department for a number of years under former Athletic Director Barbara Hedges. Harvey Blanks is a successful actor, playwright, and director in California. Lamar Mills is a prominent attorney in Seattle and is Deputy Director of the Northwest Defenders Association. All have graduate degrees.

It is crucial to point out that young men with less strength of character and determination would not have been able to survive and endure the “stigma” of being suspended from the University of Washington football team by a man who was considered at the time one of the most powerful and influential personalities in the state of Washington. Against the odds, each not only survived, but excelled, personally, professionally, and as citizens.


“Carver Gayton Named Full Time Husky Aide,” The Seattle Times, July 3, 1968; “Some Gains Reported for U.W. Black Athletes: Cautious Optimism Voiced,” Ibid., November 6, 1968; Dave Dupree, “Blanks: Complex Kid from the Strip,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 12, 1968; Georg N. Myers, “The Sporting Thing: Husky Gridiron Crop, the Letter’s Message” The Seattle Times,” April 3, 1969; Gordy Holt, “Sports Finding a Way for Youth at UW, SU,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 10, 1969; Phil Taylor, “Owens Suspends 4 Huskies for Season,” Ibid., October 31, 1969; “Owens Girl Stopped by 4, Hit in Face,” Ibid., November 1, 1969; Georg N. Myers, “The Sporting Thing: The Husky Question, What Happens Next?” The Seattle Times, November 2, 1969; Bob Schwarzmann, “Gayton Leaving is Regretted,” Ibid., November 11, 1969; Royal Brougham, 'Owens’ Woes Continue,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, November 12, 1969; Bob Greene, “Racial Unrest Seethes in U. S. College Sports,” Ibid., December 14, 1969; Don Hannula, “The Longest Saturday: The 1969 Football Season is Over, but for Jim Owens the Agony Lingers,” The Seattle Times, December 14, 1969; Dave Dupree, “Clash of Values Catches Black Coach,” Wall Street Journal, January 2, 1970; Gordy Holt, “Gayton Brothers: Troublemakers or What?” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 26, 1970; Chuck Lee, “Jim Owens -- 14 Years on the Spot,” University of Washington Daily, November 13, 1970; Georg N. Myers, “The Sporting Thing: The Profound Commitment of Cal Jones,” The Seattle Times, November 24, 1970; Stephen Dunphy, “Black Boycott of UW Sports Unfolds,” Ibid., January 2, 1971; Georg N. Myers, “The Sporting Thing: What’s Going to Happen to Jim and Joe,” Ibid., January 17, 1971; “Dismiss Owens,” University of Washington Daily, January 19, 1971; Dick Rockne, U of W Athletics: Black Opinions Vary on Progress,” The Seattle Times, January 16, 1972; Pat Dawson, “Calvin Jones: Talented, Concerned,” University of Washington Daily, October 12, 1972; Don Hannula, “Jim Owens: It Wasn’t Whether he Won or Lost,” The Seattle Times, November 27, 1974; Dick Rockne, Bow Down to Washington, (Huntsville, Alabama: Strode Publishers, 1975); John Iwasaki, “A Controversial Statue Creates Dissent, Healing: Jim Owens, Former UW Football Coach Apologizes for his Actions in the 1960’s,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 26, 2003. Note: This essay was updated and expanded slightly by the author on March 18, 2015.

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