Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

David Shapiro
Volcanic Ash logo

By David Shapiro

Saturday, May 13, 2000

Riley should have
kept his mouth shut

UNIVERSITY of Hawaii basketball coach Riley Wallace has again pointlessly offended local African Americans and it's an act that's growing old.

The African-American Association of Hawaii and the Japanese American Citizens League want Wallace sanctioned for questioning the NCAA's support of a black tourism boycott of South Carolina over the state's refusal to take down a Confederate flag flying over its capitol.

Support for the boycott by black athletes and sports organizations played a major role in forcing the South Carolina Legislature to vote this week to remove the flag from the capitol dome.

"I don't say take it down or leave it," Wallace said in a Star-Bulletin interview two weeks ago. "But I don't think the NCAA should try to force the hand of the people who live there. I wouldn't think anyone should be influencing us in Hawaii because we have different ideas. They should work out their own problems down there."

The African-American Association responded, "His failure to recognize this flag as a symbol of slavery, segregation and hatred of African Americans is comparable to accepting the Nazi swastika symbolizing Jewish persecution as a matter for Germans to work out."

UH President Kenneth Mortimer said the coach "is free to express his views."

Wallace's remarks weren't outrageously inflammatory and it might seem like much ado about nothing. The problem is, it was the second troubling incident in recent years raising questions about Wallace's respect for blacks.

In 1995, Rob Wallace, the coach's son and UH team manager, twice shouted the N-word and threatened violence against a black fan who was rudely heckling his dad from behind the bench.

Riley Wallace failed to control his son or defuse the ugly situation. He refused speak with the fan to resolve the matter without litigation. The result was a $30,000 judgment against Rob Wallace and the university by the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission that was later upheld in Circuit Court.

Rob Wallace bailed out of the case in 1998 by issuing the apology that could have settled the issue three years earlier if not for his dad's stubbornness.

These incidents may not warrant firing Wallace, but it's easy to understand why alarms go off when African Americans hear Riley Wallace talking about black issues.

YES, Wallace has a right to voice his opinions. But he also has a right to keep his mouth shut when he has nothing useful to say -- an option he should choose more often. There was nothing positive to be gained by his recent remarks and Wallace had to know people would take offense. He should have followed the advice he gave the NCAA and stayed out of it.

The university is still tied up in appeals over the 1995 incident and news of the latest insult is circulating on the Internet to the detriment Hawaii's reputation among blacks. It's time for the university to worry less about Wallace's right to express his opinions and more about the right of African Americans to be treated with respect by a coach who trades on the skills of black athletes.

Wallace indicates he's writing a letter to the offended groups. He'd better make it a good one. If he doesn't believe that bad reputations on racial issues can crush an athletic program -- or a state -- in a flash, he can ask his friends in South Carolina after they get up off their knees.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

Previous Volcanic Ash columns

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin