Minnesota's football players are threatening to boycott all football activities unless their 10 suspended teammates are reinstated... this could extend to the Gophers' Holiday Bowl matchup against WSU
After a brief hiatus for finals week, Washington State resumed its bowl practices Thursday afternoon to prepare to face Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27.
However, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, there’s a chance that the Golden Gophers’ players might boycott their bowl game.
In a show of unity, the entire Minnesota football team boycotted practice and met with media Thursday night to announce that they were boycotting all football activities effective immediately.
Minnesota announced Tuesday that 10 football players — including two starting defensive backs — were suspended indefinitely in relation to a September sexual assault investigation. The Hennepin (Minn.) County prosecutor declined to charge any player with a crime, but the university has since begun its own investigation into the case.
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Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner, receiver Drew Wolitarsky and tight end Duke Anyanwu spoke to media on behalf of their teammates Thursday night to announce that the boycott was their way of protesting the suspensions of their 10 teammates, whom they believe have been unjustly punished.
“We, the united Gopher football team, issue a statement to take back the reputation and integrity of our program and our brothers who have faced an unjust Title IX investigation without due process,” Wolitarsky said, reading from a piece of paper.
“We are concerned that our brothers have been named publicly with reckless disregard and violation of their constitutional rights.”
Wolitarsky said the boycott was motivated by a meeting the team had with Minnesota Athletic Director Mark Coyle on Wednesday, in which the players asked Coyle why their teammates had been suspended but did not get answers they deemed satisfactory.
“We got no answers to our questions about why these kids were suspended when they were found not guilty by the law,” Wolitarsky said. “He told us he didn’t have answers and that led us to believe this is kind of unjust. He has the power to reverse it and he won’t.”
A joint statement issued by Coyle and Minnesota President Eric Kaler Thursday night said the school’s decision was “based on facts and is reflective of the university’s values.”
“We understand that a lot of confusion and frustration exists as a result of this week’s suspension of ten Gopher football players from all team activities,” the statement read. “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.
As a condition to lifting the boycott, the players demanded that they be granted a private meeting with the Minnesota Board of Regents without the presence of Coyle or Kaler.
“The boycott will remain in effect until due process is followed and the suspensions of 10 players involved are lifted,” Wolitarsky said.
The players said the boycott is a “day by day” situation, and asked the Holiday Bowl committee to be patient with them as the situation continues to evolve.
“We note that the Holiday Bowl committee, Washington State and the fans are affected by this decision. We respectfully request the Holiday Bowl be patient at this time while Mark Coyle considers reversing his decision to suspend,” Wolitarsky said. “We also want to request that Mark Coyle make this decision with due haste.
“Finally, we request that the university refrain from retaliation of our coaches, players and fans. This effort is by players for players.”
Mark Neville, the executive director of the Holiday Bowl, responded in a statement: “We are continuing to prepare for the National Funding Holiday Bowl on December 27, however, we are aware of the situation at the University of Minnesota and are monitoring it closely.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen reported that the Gophers players held a meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss their boycott protest, and later told head coach Tracy Claeys of their plans. Christensen, citing anonymous sources, also reported that Claeys intends to support his players in their boycott.
The Associated Press also reported Thursday that four of the 10 suspended players — Ray Buford Jr., KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson – were suspended for three games earlier this season when they were named in an alleged sexual assault investigation.
The restraining order filed by a woman who made the allegations prevented the players from being at TCF Bank Stadium on game days because she was involved in game-day operations. But the players were not arrested, the prosecutor declined to press charges and the players returned to the team. The restraining order was lifted after a settlement on Nov. 2.
The other six players who have been suspended are defensive backs Antonio Shenault and Antoine Winfield Jr., running backs Carlton Djam and Kobe McCrary, and quarterbacks Seth Green and Mark Williams. Hardin and Winfield are starters.
According to police records released Wednesday to the Associated Press, the victim told police she was drunk when she was sexually assaulted in Djam’s apartment by several men, including some of the suspended players. She said her sexual contact with two men may have been consensual, but her contact with four of them was not. Several players told police it was consensual.
“The thing of it is, all these kids’ reputations are destroyed,” quarterback Leidner said. “Their names are destroyed. 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.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report