But Wednesday morning in Colfax brought the legendary Throwin’ Samoan a different kind of gratification. This one was rooted in the quest for fairness and social justice. This one was about WSU’s broken Conduct Board and the extreme sentence it had handed down to Robert Barber, a WSU senior from American Samoa who hasn’t been allowed in a classroom for three weeks and hasn’t played a game of football since Oct. 22.
The case put Thompson, a consummate and life-long goodwill ambassador for WSU, at odds with his university. That's uncomfortable territory for a guy as loyal to his alma mater as anyone on the planet. But Jack Thompson is a man of principal. He's also a leader.
So when he sees his team doing something wrong, he's not just going to go along with the program.
That's not what leaders do.
At the outset, Thompson hoped a middle ground could be found. In August, he put together what he believed would be a bridge-building meeting in Pullman between President Kirk Schulz and the Asian Pacific Islanders Coalition (APIC), the Seattle-based civil rights and education advocacy group based.
A peaceful, reasonable solution – one that was firm yet fair – was what Thompson sought.
Like other advocates for Barber, Thompson and APIC were mostly greeted with “rules are rules” and “procedure is procedure” types of responses. Thompson spoke eloquently and thoughtfully about the situation at an APIC press conference seeking Barber's reinstatement.
WSU kept its heels dug in.
So Barber appealed his case to the Whitman County Superior Court, where judge David Frazier today granted Barber’s motion for a stay on his suspension from WSU, effectively reinstating him in the university immediately and putting him back on the surging Cougar football team.
“I’m happy for Robert, that’s the main feeling I have right now, that’s my main reaction,” Thompson told Cougfan from Colfax, where he sat in the hearing room audience with other APIC members as a show of support for Barber.
“One of the comments the judge made was that Robert wasn’t a danger to society as had been alleged. That’s really important to note because once an allegation like that is leveled, once something like that is made public, that is sometimes all people remember.
“And the judge said what I already knew and have known for a long time: Robert is a good person who made a mistake. And he was denied a fair shake. Until today,” Thompson added.
Thompson was asked by Barber’s attorney, Steve Graham, to file a declaration with the court explaining how the extreme step of booting Barber out of school for his role in an off-campus party melee last July added up to irreparable harm.
In the declaration, submitted to the court on Monday, Thompson, stated that “I sincerely believe, as do many others, that Robert has the talent to play football in the NFL. In addition to this talent, he has a strong work ethic and a great desire to provide for his family back home in American Samoa […] I firmly believe that the 3 games Robert has missed, have been very punitive and damaging to his efforts to play football beyond college, Every game that Robert misses is one less opportunity for the NFL scouts to evaluate and substantiate his potential via game film. NFL scouts make their living discovering potential players, and the most important tool scouts use is game film. It is devastating for a senior football player to miss even one game during his final college season. It is the equivalent of applying for a job without a complete resume.”
After the judge’s decision today, Thompson – a 40,000-foot-view Cougar to the soul – talked about this case being the first step toward crafting a Conduct and Appeals process that works fairly for everyone at WSU.
“I’m happy for the students of Washington State because more light is being put on this flawed Conduct and Appeals board process. This process was questioned years and years ago. And for very good reasons. And Robert was the guy who it all fell on. That’s the bigger picture, and it will benefit all students of Washington State.”
ALL SMILES IN COLFAX. Robert Barber flanked by Jack Thompson and APIC counsel Arne Hedeen: