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Husky Hall of Fame Salutes 5 Who Stood Up to Racial Injustice

A dozen inductees will share the moment in first ceremony in two years.

Through the years, the University of Washington athletic department hasn't always done everything exactly the right way, but give the place credit for this: It does not hold a needless grudge.

Billy Joe Hobert's face hangs from a banner outside Husky Stadium, representing both the quarterback of the 1991 national championship team and someone whose personal loan the following year led to his suspension, helped bring down a football empire and cost the school its legendary coach Don James.

Now there is this development: Among the 12 newly named Husky Hall of Fame inductees announced Thursday are former football players Gregg Alex, Ralph Bayard, Harvey Blanks and Lamar Mills, and one-time assistant coach Carver Gayton, each caught in the middle of the worst racial strife surrounding UW athletics. 

The players were dropped from the 1969 football team for challenging coach Jim Owens over racial practices and Gayton quit in protest of their ouster. Everything since has been rectified, but not forgotten.

This new Husky HOF class will be inducted on October 17, the day following the homecoming football game against UCLA, where the 12 honorees will be recognized.

With racial tension at fever pitch around the 1969 Huskies, Owens suspended the aforementioned four players for failing to provide him with a loyalty oath while his team was splintering all around him and headed for a disastrous 1-9 season. 

The players felt Owens had mistreated fullback Landy Harrell, an African-American player, by running him for an entire practice until he quit the team. Harrell's misstep was fumbling against Oregon. Other UW running backs, who were white, had fumbled in that game but weren't punished.

When this disparity was called out, Owens sat in a chair in Husky Stadium before practice and required every player on the team to meet with him and provide a loyalty commitment.

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Alex, Bayard, Blanks and Mills, who were African-American, resisted the coach's demand and were dropped from the team. This created front-page headlines, brought death threats to the players and made the football season moot.

Each of these Husky players was branded a malcontent who wouldn't amount to anything, which couldn't have been farther from the truth. All but Blanks, who was considered more insubordinate for challenging his coach to fight him, eventually would return to the team. 

Amazingly, Bayard much later became a UW assistant athletic director among holding several other positions of authority. Alex turned into a minister. Mills became a public defender who married a judge. Blanks used his confidence and brash personality to become a successful stage actor.

Gayton, a former Husky player and coach, was an FBI agent before joining Owens' staff and he later became a Florida State University educator, a Boeing corporate manager of education relations and the commissioner of the Washington State Department of Employment Security.

The sacrifices made by these men to combat racial injustice each helped turn the UW athletic department into a more enlightened and welcoming place for all races.

They will share the fall induction ceremonies with Jake Locker and Marques Tuiasosopo, quarterbacks; Jon Brockman, basketball player; Claire Carter, women's tennis player; Eric Drew, men's tennis player; Kristen Rivera, softball player; and Craig Waibel, soccer player.

These are the first Husky inductees in two years, with the pandemic canceling everything in 2020.

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