You know when a school issues a statement like that, somebody’s done screwed up.
Those of you who’ve been looking for a political post to sink your teeth into here just had a developing controversy served up to you by the Minnesota football team, which announced a boycott by the entire roster of all football-related activities, including a scheduled appearance in the Holiday Bowl, unless and until the school’s president rescinds a decision to suspend ten teammates as a result of a September sexual assault allegation.
Those 10 suspended players stood directly behind seniors Drew Wolitarsky, Mitch Leidner and Duke Anyanwu — with the rest of the team arrayed behind them in support — as Wolitarsky read from a typed, two-page statement, laying out the players’ demands.
“The boycott will remain in effect until due process is followed and the suspensions for all 10 players involved are lifted,” Wolitarsky said.
Wolitarsky said the players want an apology from university President Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle, adding that the players “demand that these leaders are held accountable for their actions.”
Asked if the players were worried about losing their scholarships, Wolitarsky responded: “We’re all in this together. What are they going to do, pull 120 guys off the team? They won’t have a team if that’s the case.”
If you hear an echo of what happened a year ago at Missouri, then your hearing is good.
While the players’ tactics in these two matters may be similar, the underlying cause of discontent is different. The Missouri action was taken in response to a concern that the school administration was indifferent to minority students. The impetus to the Minnesota boycott is a Title IX decision that came after no criminal charges were pursued.
On Tuesday, the school suspended 10 players indefinitely from all team activities, with those players facing new sanctions from the university’s office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA).
According to the players’ attorney, the EOAA recommended expulsion for Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson. The attorney said the EOAA recommended one-year suspensions from the university for Seth Green, Kobe McCrary, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr., and probation for Antonio Shenault.
Some of the players were directly accused by a female student in an alleged sexual assault in the early morning hours after the Gophers’ Sept. 2 season opener; the involvement of others is unclear. The school discipline comes weeks after a criminal investigation resulted in no arrests or charges. The woman’s allegations were documented through police reports and court testimony, and ultimately led to the EOAA investigation.
Wolitarsky said the team wants the players reinstated because they were punished “for things they didn’t do.” Attorney Lee Hutton, who is representing all 10 players, said he is working on their appeals.
Besides the threat to sit, the other common thread in both circumstances is player dissatisfaction with the way the administration responded to the situations.
Wolitarsky said the players were incensed after a brief meeting with Coyle following Wednesday’s practice.
“We got no answers to our questions about why these kids were suspended when they were just found [innocent] by the law,” Wolitarsky said. “He basically told us that he didn’t have answers, and that led us to believe that this is kind of unjust. He has the power to reverse this, and he won’t.”
The sticking point with the Minnesota situation appears to be one of timing.
A source tells ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg that the primary issue for the boycott was the school suspending the players before a hearing based on the Title IX investigation had been held. That hearing wouldn’t have taken place until January, after the bowl game.
The source also said the Title IX investigation started at the same time as the police investigation.
Wolitarsky also asked that the Holiday Bowl committee “be patient” while the team waited for a resolution to the suspensions. The coaching staff is planning to come in on Friday, a source tells Rittenberg, but there isn’t expected to be another team practice until players get their meeting.
“We are concerned that our brothers have been named publicly with reckless disregard in violation of their constitutional rights,” Wolitarsky said. “We are now compelled to speak for our team and take back our program.”
So, we’ve got Missouri mixed in with a little Title IX business (certainly a hot button issue in these times) and maybe a little Duke lacrosse scandal tossed in, to boot. I mean, what could possibly go sideways there?
Oh, and there’s one more wrinkle. The school president claims that the head coach was the man who made the call. The players aren’t buying that.
Kaler said in a letter Wednesday to university boosters that Claeys made the decision to suspend the players, with support from Coyle. Later in the evening, Coyle clarified that he made the decision in consultation with Claeys.
But two sources said Thursday that the decision was made above Claeys.
“Mark Coyle did it,” Wolitarsky said. When told of Kaler’s statement that Claeys made the decision, Wolitarsky said, “I don’t believe that.”
Who’s right here? I can’t say for sure, but if the head coach was the man who pulled the trigger, this sure seems like a strange tack for him to take in the aftermath.
Gophers coach Tracy Claeys expressed support for his players, tweeting, “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”
What a fine mess they’ve made. The optimal solution would appear to be to rescind the suspensions and move the Title IX hearing date up to the here and now, but that may require a degree of nimbleness the Minnesota administration is incapable of performing. Absent that, we may be about to find out what comes of players cancelling a bowl appearance.