The number of the day we are going to talk about is 92, you know, the age Cubs fans realize that they have held out this long, yet a World Series win just isn't going to happen.
The number 92 represents Washington State defensive tackle Robert Barber and I need you to stick with me here because this topic is fairly dense.
Plenty of Cougs took the field last night in Corvallis sporting some sort of homage to their teammate who has been suspended by the school stemming from an alleged assault during the summer, and thus, cannot compete.
Now, while certain suspensions are cut and dry, this one has a sprinkle of controversial elements and head coach Mike Leach does not support what has happened to one of his players.
"Robert, one way or the other will always be a member of this team," Leach said. "He's meant a lot to this program. (His teammates) have a great deal of respect for Robert and we all feel like Robert should be here with us."
I mean, this has been a big deal, especially if you have been on any kind of social media. We are seeing #FreeBarber everywhere and there are a few big issues to talk about.
First off, did the school discriminate against a Polynesian player? Asian Pacific-Islander advocacy groups have already come out saying racial profiling and stereotyping have led to biased treatment.
Now, the school has hired an independent law firm to review the process taken by the Student Conduct Board, but Washington State will hold up the suspension. President Schulz is the only one who can overturn this ruling and he has been silent on all fronts stating federal student privacy laws.
Roughly 1,700 individuals have signed a petition wanting the suspension overruled until the independent law firm has finished its review.
So, let's break down why there is such a big problem here. Stephanie Loh of the Seattle Times did a tremendous job showcasing the policies of the student board and here are some concerning elements:
- The university proceeds over these issues, but student board cases differ from school to school. It is a bit concerning that a) there is no universal standard and b) when it comes to something as serious as an expulsion of suspension, legal rights are sort of taken off the table and put under this "educational" umbrella.
- At Washington State, you can be suspended or expelled by the preponderance of the evidence--not beyond a reasonable doubt..
- Hearsay evidence is admissible when appropriate.
- Accused students cannot directly question witnesses, but they can suggest questions in writing to the conduct board chair, who may or may not ask it.
- Finally, the student is self-represented. They can bring an adviser, who may be an attorney, but these individuals cannot present the case for the student. In Barber's situation, Antonio Huffman, the director of football operations joined the senior and he has zero legal background.
Now, it's definitely worth mentioning the Pullman Police Department has recommended charges to both, Barber and teammate TJ Fehoko for an alleged assault, but the Whitman County prosecutor has yet to press charges as a review is in process. So here is more fuel to the fire. The university has moved faster than the courts.
Lastly, if Barber was expelled, he could appeal to have his case heard by the university president, but because his case was dropped down to a suspension, that appeal is no longer on the table and president Schulz can stay out of it.
What the 'Free Barber' movement wants is Robert to remain a student until the independent law firm concludes its review on the student conduct policy.
Now, before we all revolt, there are still some things that need to be known.
First off, these student conduct cases are nothing new. Outside of UW, Washington State has similar standards to almost every other PAC-12 school including almost every other school in this state, excluding Washington of course.
Second, the student conduct board remains to protect the students. In this case, it's a couple of individuals who were allegedly assaulted in a fight, in other cases, it could be sexual abuse. You have to remember during this wait and see time, everybody remains in the same, on campus, environment. Sometimes preponderance of the evidence is needed to expedite the process, which the legal side of things just cannot do.
So, where does that leave us? Good question. Based on how the University acted, it looks like Robert Barber received due process, the bigger problem is the due process at university's, not just Washington State, seems to be broken. The umbrella is too large and the checks and balances need some fine-tuning. Now, would we be talking about this kind of stuff if Barber was not an athlete, to be honest, probably not, but the fact that he's an athlete is the reason why Barber and Fehoko are in trouble. They're easily identifiable at a party and known around campus. (The actions are certainly not condoned)
We are kind of stuck right now. Based on precedent alone, it is doubtful the school will have a change of heart, but at the very least, Robert Barber's case has generated a discussion and discussion is good. Maybe it will not lead to him back on the field, but he could be the catalyst for a system with leaky pipes to stop spraying water everywhere.
We need change.