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Friday, October 31, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UW Football

Ex-Husky looks back in anger

Seattle Times staff reporter

Harvy Blanks is an actor in New York now, three time zones and roughly 34 years removed from his controversial exit from Washington's football team.

That controversy flared anew last week with the placing of a statue of former coach Jim Owens in front of Husky Stadium. Blanks — who became the de facto spokesman for the four black players Owens kicked off the team during the turbulent 1969 season — initially planned to let it pass silently.

But the more he thought about it, the more it bothered him. "Everybody's wanting to stay mum," said Blanks, referring to the other players in the 1969 incident not saying anything publicly in the past week. "Well, I'm not going to stay mum. I'm going to say what's on my mind."

Blanks says he doesn't accept the apology Owens made in person last Friday to two of the other players — Ralph Bayard and Gregg Alex — who were kicked off the team at the same time he was in 1969.

"I'm a little upset over the whole situation," Blanks said. "Some of the guys that I talked to said they didn't want to make any statements and let it die quietly. But it upsets me because institutional racism still exists. And when they go and do little things like this, they perpetuate it."

He said he "respects the fact that (Owens) made an apology. But I personally do not accept it."

Blanks was a speedy 5-foot-8 wingback from Chicago who lettered in the 1967 and 1968 seasons — he had both the longest run and longest kickoff return of the year for UW in 1968. He had been attracted to UW by its Rose Bowl success and by Owens' charisma.

"I loved the man when I first met him," Blanks said. "His bigness, the grandness of the guy. The whole thing about him walking on water to work every morning. That whole myth. I loved him. I've never said this to him, but everybody I know, he had that effect on them. But he was just a racist, and to me, that's the tragedy of it."

Blanks was sitting out the 1969 season with a broken foot when long-simmering racial tension came to a head midway through the season after a loss to Oregon. Blanks was one of four players kicked off the team after individual meetings in which Owens asked if each could give "100 percent commitment" to him and the program.

After all 12 black players on the team boycotted a game against UCLA, Owens invited the three others he had kicked off — Lamar Griggs, Alex and Bayard — to return to the team.

Blanks was not asked back, but says he doesn't blame Owens for that.

"I basically called him a liar... " Blanks said. "Quite frankly, if I had been the coach, I wouldn't have let me back on, either."

Blanks said his views of how Owens ran the program haven't changed. He said Owens stacked black players by position so that more white players could play, something Owens denied at the time and again last week.

Blanks said he once ran with the No. 1 unit all week in practice before a televised game, only to be told just before kickoff that he wouldn't start. Another time, he said someone put up a picture of a cannibal with a bone through his nose in the locker room where there was supposed to be a picture of one of the black players. None of the coaches said anything about it, Blanks said.

There also were charges that black players were admonished or warned against dating white women.

"People are saying it's 40 years later or whatever," Blanks said. "But that doesn't help the lives that he crushed."

Blanks said what bothers him the most about the current situation "is the indifference that the white alumni showed us. It's like 'It's going to happen (the tribute to Owens) so let's try to ease and assuage the feelings and concerns of these black guys by calling a meeting and saying what the black guys already know, that he was wrong.'

"But those people should know that I'm very upset about it." Blanks never played college football again after leaving Washington. He said he met Owens one time after leaving Washington in the early '70s, at a meeting arranged by Georg N. Meyers, then the Seattle Times sports editor. Blanks said Meyers arranged the meeting to attempt to show that Owens and Blanks had made amends, which helped Blanks sign with the Denver Broncos. But Blanks, who never played for the Broncos, said that meeting was just for show.

He said he later received a master's degree from Cornell and has been working steadily as an actor. He said his next project is working in an all-black cast of "A Streetcar Named Desire" in Denver.

Blanks said the bitterness of his UW experience consumed him for a few years after he left, something he tried to let go of. That was one reason he hadn't commented publicly in all these years.

"But I don't feel like saying 'no comment' on this because there is a lot to comment on," he said. "His statue there does not make me feel good, the idea of this guy being honored in that way. That, to me, again shows that there are two Americas, or in this case, two remembrances. There is the white one and there is the black one."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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