By: Marc Tracey and Paul Borzi
The University of Minnesota football team pledged on Thursday to boycott all football activities, including a coming bowl game, to protest the suspensions of 10 players in connection with a sexual assault investigation.
A woman secured a restraining order against six Minnesota players — one of whom was later dropped from it — after an episode in September in which she said she was sexually assaulted by several men, some of whom were suspended for three games by the university. The men have insisted the sex was consensual.
While the police investigated, prosecutors declined to charge the players, and the restraining order was contingently lifted as part of a settlement. The university’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office conducted its own investigation, as mandated by Title IX, the federal law guaranteeing equal access to higher education regardless of gender.
Burdens of proof used in such investigations are frequently lower than the criminal justice system’s. It was apparently after such an investigation that the latest disciplinary recommendations were handed down, with the father of one player telling a local newspaper that expulsion had been suggested for some of the players.
One player who was not involved in the case told reporters Thursday night, according to The Associated Press, that the players felt their teammates had not received due process.
“Their names are destroyed,” added quarterback Mitch Leidner, according to The A.P. “It’s extremely difficult to get back, and it’s very unfair for them, and that’s why we’re sticking together through this thing.”
Coach Tracy Claeys, who is in his first full season, appeared to express support for the boycott in a Twitter post on Thursday night that said: “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”
The Golden Gophers went 8-4 this season and were set to meet Washington State in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 in San Diego.
Eric W. Kaler, the university’s president, and Athletic Director Mark Coyle released a statement saying that they could not discuss the case in detail because of federal privacy laws covering students. “We understand that a lot of confusion and frustration exists as a result of this week’s suspension of 10 Gopher football players from all team activities,” the statement said.
It added, “The decision was based on facts and is reflective of the university’s values.”
Concern over campus sexual assault has risen in recent years, and the Obama administration has both raised public awareness and altered federal guidelines over what it has characterized as a major problem. Although athletes in major sports are not disproportionally assailants, cases involving football and men’s basketball players at Florida State, Baylor, Vanderbilt and Yale have turned into particular lightning rods.
Last year, Missouri’s football team threatened to boycott a regular-season game in solidarity with a hunger strike initially begun by a graduate student in protest of what he alleged was a climate of systemic racism reinforced by the then-president of the university. The players’ actions turned the story into a news media sensation, and the president resigned less than two days after the boycott was announced in a display of the players’ power.