On Thursday, December 17th, the University of Minnesota’s football team collectively agreed to boycott all football activities, including their upcoming bowl game, in response to allegations that 10 members of their team were connected to a sexual assault investigation. Roughly 24 hours later, the team has rescinded their boycott, provided an obtuse apology for it and have stated conviction to use their status as football players to represent the values and ethics of the University.
While many can agree it is a victory that the football team came to their senses and stopped making, yet another, public blasphemy of our University, what developed in those 24 hours will be a stain on the players, the families, the coaches, and the entire football program for weeks, months and likely years to come.
The values, virtues and truth-seeking of our University were called into question not only by the behavior of the players when they announced the boycott, but also by their families. These students used their status as football players with a bowl game in the near future to attempt to back President Kaler into a corner and demand the Title IX investigation, a federally mandated investigation, be put to an end. They disregarded that they were throwing into the public sphere the real, terrifying possibility that a woman was gang-raped the morning of September 2nd by members of their team. They disregarded the fact that investigations occur because there is an allegation of a criminal offense and that those who are victimized deserve justice too. Instead, they petulantly determined that they were somehow the victims and they did not want anyone snooping around in their business anymore.
To add to this horror is the very fact that their parents and head coach, Tracy Claeys, stood up for them at a time where more understanding of the events were trying to be processed by the public at large. In a tweet, many were shocked to see Tracy Claeys write, “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!” Antoine Winfield Sr., father of one of the teams’ players, also demanded that the investigation cease and that Kaler and and Athletic Director Mark Coyle, lose their jobs or else he is pulling his kid out of the University.
As a campus student organization that has advocated for the replacement of Eric Kaler for a range of reasons, this is NOT one of them. If anything, Students for a Democratic Society sees Eric Kaler’s letter as a firm stance we do not see as often as we’d like from his office regarding issues affecting students. Kaler is able to bring the football team to task and confirm that sexual assault allegations and investigations will not become secondary to the threat of 120 players backing out of a bowl game.
With respect to Tracy Claeys’ decidedly pro-rape stance, we demand that he be fired immediately for supporting students who were attempting to defy the investigation of a sexual assault case. Tracy Claeys has the responsibility to respect the same values of this University that President Kaler discusses in the aforementioned article. Instead, he provided no respect to the investigative process and publicly allowed the football team and its leadership act like a bunch of “good old boys”.
Frankly, we also find it embarrassing that this team, throughout their “boycott”, appeared to not even completely understand the legal proceedings or how the case has gotten to this point. They requested a press conference to promote their boycott and solidarity with their accused teammates without actually reading the chilling EOAA report beforehand. The team’s statements also demonstrate an egregious misunderstanding of the workings of Title IX, a federal act that requires Universities to investigate any alleged sexual misconduct and take actions to correct it. Furthermore, the team’s grievance regarding the 10 players being named with “reckless disregard” is the fault of their own lawyer, who named them publically the evening of Wednesday, December 14th. The initial statement put out by the men’s football team is full of factual inaccuracies. Weirdest of all, however, is Drew Wolitarsky’s bizarre nod to President-Elect Donald Trump that appears to have nothing to do with anything related to the boycott, but instead a paltry cry to “make the program great again”.
In an effort to make the program great again, Students for a Democratic Society demand that all departments of the University respect and abide by the Affirmative Consent Policy that was achieved just recently. We see through the behavior, language and disgusting rhetoric that has come out in support of the Gopher’s football team the absolute need for this policy to not only exist, but to be enforced. Rodrick Williams, a U of M football player, has been quoted on facebook saying that his “team members did not get due process because one female cried wolf because she couldn’t keep her legs closed”. Especially concerning is the attitude espoused by many on the football team, directly blaming the victim in crude, disgusting ways(screenshots are below at the end of this release). Prior to 12/17/16 The men’s football team requested a private meeting with two Regents known to be against the affirmative consent campaign and/or extremely right wing, a move that SDS sees as an attempt to gain biased validation for their “boycott”. This case and it’s subsequent investigation may have seen different results if the Affirmative Consent policy had not passed. We condemn all previous efforts to thwart its passage into U of MN policy and all further efforts to remove it.
As of 12/17/16 the U of M football team has decided to end their “boycott” of all football-related activities and participate in the Holiday Bowl. We think that the football team should be removed from the invitation to play at the game as a consequence of petulantly defending and supporting 10 students accused of sexual assault and publicly shaming the University of Minnesota.
Finally, SDS advises that all those with a conscience who were also previously considering attending or watching the Holiday Bowl do not. It is obvious, given the aforementioned reasons, that the U of M football team fosters a culture of rape apologia and does not understand the possible consequences of their split-second actions regarding this case of sexual assault. The head coach of the U of M men’s football team should be immediately fired, the ten suspected students should be expelled, and the football team should have required sexual assault and harassment rectification classes and re-education. It is clear in the EOAA report that the team used gang rape as a recruiting tool for a high-schooler that was a potential incoming football player.
SDS stands in solidarity with all victims and survivors of sexual assault, and we urge President Kaler and the Regents to take a hard look at the investments being made into the football program and move forward with the expulsion of the perpetrators. We will continue to stand up against these violations until it is clear to everyone that rape culture will not be tolerated on campus.
We would also like to let all students know about the resources available on campus and the Minneapolis area if you are feeling especially vulnerable after the events of the last few weeks regarding the treatment and publication of this case.
The Aurora Center : aurora.umn.edu
Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault: http://www.mncasa.org
Walk-In Counseling Center Minneapolis: http://walkin.org