Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Supporters and opponents of Vili Fehoko, pictured here in front of Bachman Hall at the University of Hawaii-Manoa last year, have strong opinions on whether he should remain as the school's mascot.

UH mascot furor
gets global attention

Media take notice of the controversy
over Vili's game behavior

Vili the Warrior became national -- even international -- news yesterday.

A Sunday Star-Bulletin story on the complaints about Vili Fehoko's behavior as the University of Hawaii Warrior mascot was rewritten by the Associated Press and picked up in newspapers, television stations and radio programs across the country, with some of the stories featuring images of a yelling Vili adorned in his trademark black face paint.

Even the Guardian newspaper in England mentioned the controversy.

So did CNN, ESPN, ABC News, the Albany Times Union in New York, the Oakland Tribune in California and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to name a few.

One Chicago TV station placed the Vili controversy among its "top stories" on its Web site, linking to the AP coverage with the headline "Hawaii warrior mascot said too aggressive."

Other "top" national headlines grouped with the Hawaii story:

>> "Woman charged after dumping hot fudge on ex-husband"
>> "Texas man receives $7 million water bill"
>> "Man plans to make nudist camp for Christians like Garden of Eden"

UH officials are reassessing the mascot program after receiving complaints about Fehoko's aggressive behavior during the latter portion of the football season. Over the next few weeks, school officials said, they will decide what changes to make and whether Fehoko, a 38-year-old professional entertainer, will remain as the mascot.

Fehoko said his routine is designed to entertain fans, not to hurt or offend them.

The Sunday Star-Bulletin article generated strong e-mail responses from supporters and opponents of Fehoko.

"He is the heart and soul of our football team," wrote one reader.

"Vili Fehoko is an embarrassment to the people of Hawaii and UH," wrote another.

An ESPN panel of mainland sportswriters joined the debate on yesterday's "Around the Horn" TV show, disagreeing on whether a mascot's behavior should be held in check.

At KITV-4 television station, an online, unscientific survey on whether Fehoko should remain UH's mascot generated more than 1,200 responses by 6 p.m. yesterday, with 686, or 55 percent, saying he should be canned.

Shirley Cavanaugh, an adjunct instructor of public relations at Chaminade University, said the national publicity is hurting UH and the image of a state known for the aloha spirit.

"It's sending the wrong message," she said.


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