Gabe Marks says football players are held to an unfair, impossible standard that makes them afraid to interact with other students for fear of getting blamed the minute things go wrong
Washington State’s football players don’t do a lot of media appearances during the season, but they spoke out in full force Friday morning at the public comment session the WSU Board of Regents held to give the WSU community an opportunity to express its thoughts on the Robert Barber case that’s generated controversy over the last week.
Barber, a fifth-year senior defensive lineman from American Samoa, has been suspended from school since last Friday for allegedly concussing another WSU student at an off-campus party in July. The sanction was handed down by the WSU Student Conduct Board, which has come under fire recently and had its procedures publicly criticized for not granting students due process.
Even though the Cougars typically lie low on the day before games — they play Arizona Saturday afternoon — numerous WSU football players including Gabe Marks, Luke Falk, Parker Henry, Peyton Pelluer and Noah Osur-Myers attended the meeting to show their support for Barber.
Marks, WSU’s outspoken fifth-year senior receiver and occasional firebrand, made an impassioned statement to the Board of Regents, asking them to reinstate Barber – whom he called a “friend” and “brother” – to the football team.
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“You guys keep saying he still has the opportunity to get his degree in December. But we have to be real about the situation. My friend is from American Samoa. He’s been in the United States for five years, and football is the reason why he came here. It’s the opportunity for a better life for his family,” Marks said, before accusing the regents of looking disinterested in listening to the people who were speaking up for Barber.
Regent Ron Sims took offense to that.
“I don’t want to be told that I didn’t listen, I don’t want to be told that I don’t look out for people of color,” said Sims, who is African American. “But I heard you. You spoke eloquently and powerfully and I appreciate it.”
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Hunter Mattox also spoke out in support of Barber, as did Josie Salave’a, the wife of WSU’s defensive line coach Joe Salave’a.
At the beginning of the public comment session, WSU President Kirk Schulz announced that the school had devised a way to allow Barber to complete his final class and graduate in December while still under suspension, and without being physically present on campus.
Barber and his attorney, Steve Graham, are currently in the process of petitioning the Whitman County Superior Court to request a stay of his suspension and to overturn the conduct board’s ruling based on what they allege were numerous procedural violations.
Later in the hour and a half long public comment session, Marks asked for the microphone again. This time, he highlighted how unfair he felt it was that football players are held to a higher standard than the rest of WSU’s student body and get blamed for an unfair proportion of altercations.
“There’s a weird thing that happens that no one talks about. The security that regular students have with addressing athletes because they know we’re held to such a higher standard than them,” Marks said. “Kids know that. And then they get alcohol or other drugs in them and we end up on the defense when we go out.
“The fact that a guy plays Division I football doesn’t give regular students the right to have more security out there when we do. We feel like when anything happens out there, we get blamed for it because we’re big and lift weights.”
Marks contends that athletes are held to an unfair double standard, and that in a small town like Pullman, this can make it tough for them to go about their lives.
“There’s this double standard where you guys want us to be supermodel citizens, but we’re kids. If we want everything to be equal, everyone on this campus has to be treated equally,” Marks said. “It doesn’t mean we should be held to this standard where we’re scared to interact with other students when they’re drinking (and) kids fight us so they can go back to their frats and tell their frat buddies ‘oh I fought Robert Barber, he’s big but he’s not that great.’ Those are things that happen.”
WSU football coach Mike Leach was not at the meeting, but when reached afterward for comment, the coach said in a text message, “I agree with everything Gabe said. It is impossible to believe that Robert Barber is being treated fairly. There were 80 to 100 people at that party doing the same thing that Robert was, in some cases worse. Yet none of the other 80 to 100 people have been scrutinized or penalized like Robert Barber has.”
Here’s what some other football players had to say on Twitter afterward: