Minnesota Gophers football players announce boycott of all football activity
This is supposed to be a time of celebration for teams headed to bowls. But at Minnesota, tumult is enveloping the program.
On Thursday, players announced they are boycotting all practices and team activities – and maybe even the Golden Gophers’ Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl vs. Washington State – over the indefinite suspension of 10 players.
The suspended players are Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, Seth Green, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson, Kobe McCrary, Antonio Shenault, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr. The suspensions are the result of a sexual assault investigation by Minnesota’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA).
The suspensions trace their roots to an incident that happened at the start of the 2016 season. The school subsequently suspended four players — Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson — for an unspecified violation of team rules. They missed three games while police investigated. The players were reinstated when Hennepin County declined to press charges. No arrests were made in the alleged incident.
But the university’s office of EOAA conducted its own investigation, which led to these latest suspensions. Universities have a process of investigating sexual assaults that is different than the legal system of investigation.
Players on the team took to Twitter to voice their displeasure, using the hashtag #WeHadEnough. Not an ideal situation for athletic director Mark Coyle, hired in May as Minnesota’s fourth A.D. since 2012.
Here’s what the players said through a statement read by WR Drew Wolitarsky:
University President Eric Kaler released a statement tonight: “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 reality is that not everyone can have all of the facts, and unfortunately the University cannot share more information due to federal laws regarding student privacy. We fully support our Gopher football players and all of our student-athletes. Situations like this are always difficult and the decision was made in consultation with and has the full support of President Eric Kaler. The decision was based on facts and is reflective of the University’s values.
“We want to continue an open dialogue with our players and will work to do that over the coming days. It’s important that we continue to work together as we move through this difficult time.”
If the team ultimately plays the bowl without the suspended players, it will be handicapped greatly. Two of the suspended players start in the secondary: Winfield, Jr. and Hardin. And their backups—Buford and Shenault—also are among the suspended. That’s bad news facing a Washington State team that is No. 2 in the nation in passing (370.8 ypg).
This is the latest dubious incident at Minnesota. The school made unsavory headlines in 2015 with revelations of inappropriate behavior by A.D. Norwood Teague, which led to his departure. The wrestling program was embroiled in a prescription drug scandal earlier this year.
Also in 2016, an internal investigation showed basketball coach Richard Pitino far exceeded budget for private jet travel. Also, three basketball players were suspended after a video posted to a player’s social media account and another player was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault.
Not ideal for an athletic department looking to get momentum, and a football program looking to get traction under new head coach Tracy Claeys, who went 8-4 in his debut taking over for Jerry Kill.
It will be interesting to see if a compromise is reached, if the players will back off or if another resolution is found.
Missouri football players threatened to boycott a game vs. BYU in 2015 after feeling the school had not responded adequately to on-campus racial incidents and they wanted the school president to resign. Coach Gary Pinkel sided with the players. In the end, the Missouri president and chancellor stepped down and the game was played.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in an era when players are feeling more and more emboldened and empowered.