By Ruth Bayang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Jack Thompson, a prominent Samoan community member, called Robert Barber the victim of an inadequate process.
Barber is a Washington State University (WSU) football player currently suspended for allegedly being involved in a fight in which a couple of people were injured and one man’s jaw was broken.
At a news conference in Seattle on Oct. 31, Asian American advocates suggested that Barber, who is from American Samoa, was racially profiled, and that he has not been criminally charged. They want to see Barber get a fair hearing.
Diana Narasaki of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC), the advocacy group that hosted the news conference, questioned why Barber was suspended for his conduct at the party last summer, when a white student received only probation.
“If there was a general melee with scores of people fighting, why were Pacific Islanders the only students arrested and expelled?” said Narasaki.
Thompson, a WSU alum known as the “Throwin’ Samoan,” and former NFL player, chided the university conduct policy for not allowing Barber, for whom English is a second language, to have representation at his hearings before the university conduct board and appeals board.
“The system is, I’m ashamed of it, as a Coug, and it has to get changed,” said Thompson.
Rev. Suipi Vaielua, of the Fort Lewis Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa, said Samoan children have limited opportunities to “get off the rock” — serve in the U.S. military or get recruited to play football. Vaielua said this issue would bring shame to the Barber family back in Samoa. Vaielua’s son, Vince, said Barber left his family and all he knew to play football for WSU. And this is how he is treated. They say they’re not asking for special treatment. They simply want Barber, and everyone else, to get proper due process protections.
Also present at the news conference was state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, another WSU alum. He drew applause when he called on WSU Regents and Gov. Jay Inslee to reinstate Barber immediately.
Barber’s suspension means his college football career is likely over. Also, Barber is close to graduating. He has 119 credits and if his suspension is upheld, Barber would have to wait until the final summer session in 2017 to earn the credit.
Baumgartner said, “Even if Barber should be found to have assaulted someone, he’s innocent until proven guilty and it’s in the public interest for him to get a degree.”
Baumgartner called the difference to society for Barber to have a degree versus not, “profound.”
He offered Barber a job in his Senate office as a liaison with university officials if the suspension holds. Baumgartner said he would also put Barber in charge of overseeing financial requests from state universities. “So when WSU comes to my office and asks me for money, the first person they’re going to talk to is Robert Barber,” Baumgartner said.
The state Senator stressed that this issue was not about football. “This is not about getting Robert Barber back on the football field,” Baumgartner said. “This is about getting Robert Barber back in the classroom and getting him his degree.”
A filing was expected in Whitman County on Nov. 2, calling for a stay in Barber’s suspension that would allow him to attend class, and possibly play football while his review petition is considered.
Ruth can be reached at email@example.com.