Hawaii's haka dance to continue despite penalty, concerns

Updated: September 10, 2007, 10:13 PM ET
Associated Press

HONOLULU -- A demonstration of Polynesian pride or just plain offensive?

Hawaii coach June Jones on Monday said his team would continue performing a pre-game Maori war dance called a "haka," despite being penalized for it in Saturday's game at Louisiana Tech, where the Warriors escaped with a 45-44 overtime win.

The Warriors performed the emotional chant away from the field in front of their own fans, but were assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That forced Hawaii to kick from its 15, giving the Bulldogs possession near midfield that set up their first touchdown.

"It's not going to prevent us from doing the haka in the future," Jones said.

Hawaii, which slipped four spots to No. 24 this week, was penalized because Louisiana Tech was still on the field. But Jones expressed frustration because his team was so far away, on top of a hill near the locker room.

"We were 75 yards removed from the field, doing what we do -- something that's special to Hawaii and special to our fans," he said. "It was just an unfortunate situation I thought."

First-year Bulldogs coach Derek Dooley said his team wasn't affected by Hawaii's haka.

"It's something that's probably a tradition for Hawaii, and they don't mean it as disrespect," he said Monday. "But at the same time, it's important to be sensitive to the other team and how they view it. It's like any religious or cultural event you may have.

"When you go to Japan, what's a natural custom in the United States may be offensive to the Japanese. I think there certainly should be some sensitivity to that."

Hawaii and the rest of the Western Athletic Conference schools were reminded before the season about the broad WAC sportsmanship policy that prohibits taunting or obscene gestures considered threatening or intimidating to an opposing team.

On Aug. 27, WAC Commissioner Karl Benson sent an e-mail to conference schools, discussing the policy on choreographed routines, such as dances or chants either before or after a contest.

"If they are done in a way that's directed toward the opposing team in a taunting manner -- or if done to 'incite' the opposition's fans -- it does violate the policy and will be subject to penalties," the e-mail said. "Should your institution have a team that performs some type of routine either before or after a game-match, it must be done while the opposing team is off the field or court and in their respective locker rooms."

The e-mail also urged visiting teams, "not perform any type of routine whatsoever on the field-court of the home team."

In an interview Monday, Benson said his intent was not to single out the University of Hawaii or the haka but to remind schools of the policy.

"I respect the cultural relevance of it. I think it represents the Polynesian culture and I respect that," he said.

But he wants to make certain the haka doesn't offend opposing teams or fans like it did last year. A conference team called Benson to tell him that Hawaii's dance, which includes a slashing motion across the throat, was directed at them. The referee at the game at Aloha Stadium also indicated to Benson that he was not comfortable with the performance.

Benson then advised Hawaii not to perform the haka until an opposing team is in the locker room and the Warriors complied. That is, until Saturday.

He also spoke with Jones on Monday and said, "I believe we're on the same page."

"I conveyed to him that I was not in any shape or form trying to eliminate it," Benson said. "But rather than risk any chance of future penalty or conflict, why not do it when the other team is in their locker room? I'm anticipating that will be the case in the future."

Jones has called the haka "cultural" and "spiritual."

He was quoted in The Honolulu Advertiser as saying there was no unsportsmanlike rules that specifically deals with the haka.

"For someone to micromanage outside the NCAA rules, that's not right," he said.

Hawaii began performing the pre-game haka regularly two years ago.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index