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Warriors or Rainbows? Let the people decide

For Saturday, May 4, 2013

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 1:44 a.m. HST, May 4, 2013

For those who remember the Honolulu Stadium days when the University of Hawaii played its football games in Moiliili and rainbows could be glimpsed arching over the Manoa Valley, there is an enduring attachment to the nickname.

"Rainbows" recalls a time when "branding" was something done to cattle, not universities. And this moniker eloquently spoke to the unique diversity and the beauty of the state the school represented.

History tells us it was coined by some of the prescient minds of the time, sportswriters, who knew a fortuitous sign when they saw one emerging in a season-ending 1923 upset of Oregon State, the first victory over what would now be known as a Bowl Championship Series opponent.

Legend, history, imagination, exclusivity ... "Rainbows" quickly dislodged "Fighting Deans" and seemingly touched all the bases for three-quarters of a century. At least until it was straight-armed to a reduced role 13 years ago in a marketing blitz given a push by homophobic fears.

In the interim, "Warriors" has grown on a younger fan base, the kapa "H" has been embraced, merchandise sales have climbed.

And the resulting mishmash of Warriors/Rainbows/Rainbow Warriors/ Rainbow Wahine for UH has proven unwieldy and confusing. Athletic director Ben Jay was correct on this point: It begs for resolution.

So give UH what it needs, a definitive ruling, while providing stakeholders (fans, alums, etc.) with what they want, a say-so in the decision. Give us a once-and-for-all-time nickname referendum.

With every ticket used, every merchandise item purchased, every donation made, every pay-per-view bought in the fall, provide one online vote, posting results periodically.

Give people a reason to engage or, in a sign of the sadly empty grandstand times, re-engage, with UH.

This, of course, would be new ground at UH. Instead of the time-honored practice of hiring a research firm to tell UH what its target audience wants, go straight to the people themselves. Instead of forming a committee of high rollers, another well-worn Manoa pastime, or holding an executive seance, deputize the rank and file.

Tap into the considerable passions out there. People might shrug their shoulders about whether basketball coach Gib Arnold should get a contract extension, but it is the rare sports fan without an opinion on the school's nicknames. They might not march on Bachman Hall, but judging from call-in shows and online comments, they are not without strong feelings.

Let Joe Moore exhort his followers and bring June Jones back to rally the Warrior Nation, deciding it at the ballot box.

The fact that, after 13 years, the controversy over the nickname still festers and, after three months, the latest dictum still rankles, says something. It suggests that no matter how much the nickname issue should go away, it isn't.

Ultimately, UH can live with "Warriors" or "Rainbows" -- whatever the public chooses.

What it can't afford is protracted internecine squabbling over an issue that should have been put to rest a long time ago.

Reach Ferd Lewis at or 529-4820.

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