U of M Football Players Threaten Boycott

Image credit ESPN.com

Gopher Football team stands in solidarity with suspended teammates.

Minneapolis, MN The University of Minnesota Gophers football team is threatening to boycott the Holiday Bowl game over the suspension of several players by university officials this week.

On Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, the team dressed in their game-day maroon and gold jerseys and announced that in protest their teammates’ suspensions, they would be boycotting all football related activities, including, if necessary, the upcoming Holiday Bowl game Dec. 27.

(ESPN.com)

ESPN reports:

In a statement read by senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, the players said: “The boycott will remain effective until due process is followed and suspensions for all 10 players involved are lifted.”
The statement said the players were forced to take action after an unsatisfactory meeting with athletic director Mark Coyle in which they “wanted answers but received misleading statements.”

The suspensions come after a female student alleged sexaul assault by some of the football players after the Sept. 2 Gophers’ season opener. The alleged assault was investigated by Minneapolis police.  According to an October 3, 2016 report by the Pioneer Press:

Minneapolis police said last month that those four players were “mentioned” in a Sept. 3 report that spurred the investigation, but the department declined to define their possible roles. They have been suspended since Sept. 10 for violating team rules.
“There is insufficient admissible evidence for prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either force was used, or that the victim was physically helpless as defined by law in a sexual encounter,” the county attorney’s office said Monday.

The university initiated a Title IX investigation at the same time as the police investigation.  According to an ESPN source the main issue for the boycott was the fact that the university suspended the players before a hearing based on the Title IX investigation had been held.  The Title IX investigation hearing would not have been scheduled until January, after the bowl game.

Ten players were suspended indefinitely from all team activities by the university on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.  The players are also facing new sanctions from the university’s office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA).  Five of the suspended players were also recommended for expulsion.  Those players are: Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson. The players’ attorney, Lee Hutton, also 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.

The university issued a statement after the players’ announced the boycott stating, “We want to continue an open dialogue with our players and will work to do that over the coming days.”

According to the Star Tribune Wolitarsky also said:

“The boycott will remain in effect until due process is followed and the suspensions for all 10 players involved are lifted.”
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.”

The boycott comes at a time when universities’ policies regarding campus sexual assault are being called into question.  As Alpha News recently reported: “former Homeland Security Secretary and president of the University of California, Janet Napolitano, warned in an article in the Yale Law & Policy Review: “‘Rather than pushing institutions to become surrogates for the criminal justice system,’ she said, policymakers should ask if ‘more work should be done to improve that system’s handling and prosecution of sexual assault cases.’ …according to Harvard Law School professor Janet Halley and other critics…the punishments can be a expulsion and a permanent notation on a student’s transcript, potentially life-altering penalties. Critics call those moves dangerous procedural short circuits that have resulted in serious injustice.”

The football players maintain their teammates’ innocence in the sexual assault allegations.  Gopher Head Coach Tracy Claeys was involved in the decision to suspend the players; however, he also tweeted his support of their choice to protest the suspensions:

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