By Stephen Tsai
Self-disclosure No. 1: I don't know Falaniko Noga or Al Noga personally, and I never covered them as a beat reporter.
Self disclosure No. 2: As a fill-in member of UH's Circle of Honor selection committee, I nominated Niko Noga and Al Noga. Both are among seven former UH student-athletes who will be inducted this year.
First, there are no concerns about the their on-field abilities. I'm 53, and I've followed UH football for 40 years. Niko Noga is the best UH football player I've ever watched. Maybe there were players who were better. Maybe not. I'm old, but I'm still younger than dust, and Niko Noga tops my list of top UH football players. Al Noga, of course, was the first consensus All-America first team Warrior.
It wasn't easy for the Noga brothers. They were raised in public housing, and they admittedly had to sidestep thugs, drug dealers and drug addicts on their way to school. They grew up in a household in which English was not the first language. They didn't have the benefit of new cleats or coaching clinics or combines. They defied the odds by finishing high school, making it to college, and playing in the NFL.
Although they were great players, they weren't always great people. They have a police abstract of misdemeanors. In Al's case, he served six months in OCCC for domestic abuse. That type of behavior is unacceptable. Is it unforgivable? The legal system believes he served the appropriate punishment. It has been five years.
After the NFL, Niko returned to Samoa, where he bought equipment and coached a high school football team. Al had troubles — legal and physical. He told me he believes he is showing signs of pre-dementia, a result of dozens of concussions. Still, Al went back to school, paying his own way, and earned a degree. He is taking classes toward a master's. He is apologetic about his past problems. He often shows up at UH workouts, encouraging the players to work hard, and accepts only a hug as compensation. From what I can tell, he is well-liked and respected by today's Warriors.
I spoke with former coaches, players, even some Circle members. For the committee's part, the vetting was thorough. A large part of the discussion was centered on what constituted "honor." There was opposition, to be sure. But in the end, both were admitted into a very select club.
I've made a lot of mistakes in my life. I've made a lot of bad choices. I'm going to continue to make mistakes and bad choices. That's life. I've worked alongside people who also have made mistakes and bad choices. I can't speak for others, but I do believe in second chances. Even third chances.
Maybe I'm right. Maybe I'm an idiot. But in this case, I'd rather cast votes than stones.