Shifting Narrative at Minnesota

Boycott by football players focused on issues of due process for 10 suspended athletes. But as university's investigation into sexual assault revealed damning details, support for the athletes ebbed and boycott was dropped.

December 19, 2016
Rally at Minnesota on Saturday

University of Minnesota football players on Saturday announced that they were ending their boycott of football activities, a boycott they had earlier suggested would extend to refusing to play in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27.

The football players said they were boycotting to protest the suspension of 10 players on the team. The university did not announce a reason for the suspensions, but they are believed to be related to a sex assault investigation in which police declined to bring charges. A series of documents about the university's investigation that have come out since the boycott started reveal that some suspended players violated rules barring sexual assault and others violated rules against sexual harassment.

Eric W. Kaler (right), the university's president, met with players after they declared their boycott but insisted that he would not reverse the suspensions, citing the importance of university "values" that may extend beyond legal standards of what constitutes criminal conduct.

In a statement released Friday, Kaler said, "One of my jobs as president is to put our institutional values at the forefront of all we do and ensure our actions are aligned with those values. This principle is far more important than any football game and the university community as a whole, and it is more important than any single athletic team. Some of the values that we hold, as a community, include: every member of the university community deserves to be treated with respect. Our student-athletes are important representatives of the university, and when they wear the M, they are held to a high standard of conduct. When the expectations for conduct are not met, there are consequences."

A statement from the football team announcing the end of the boycott started by declaring that "sexual harassment and violence against women have no place on this campus, on our team, in our society and at no time is it condoned."

While the statement said the team members continue to have concerns about due process and "a lack of communication," it added that it has become clear the suspensions will not be lifted. The football players' statement said they were ending their boycott based on assurances that the suspended players would receive due process, and that support would be shown for the "character" of "the great majority" of players.

While the boycott initially attracted sympathy from many alumni, concerned about issues of due process, support for the university's stance grew as details emerged about what happened to a female student in incidents involving 10 athletes.

Most damning may have been the university equal opportunity office's report on its investigation -- a redacted copy of which was published by KSTP News. The 80-page report (available here, but the graphic details may upset some readers) shows that the football players were interviewed, their assertions were considered and they were not all judged equally responsible for what happened. Those details go against the narrative of the boycott when it started -- suggesting that the athletes were unaware why they were in trouble and denied a chance to tell their stories.

And the report details why the university found that four of them engaged in sexual assault, and that others in forms harassment (such as videotaping the victim without her consent), tried to cover up what happened or violated other parts of the student code of conduct.

The Star Tribune reported Sunday that it was the report's details -- many of them read over the weekend for the first time by football players who organized the boycott and by the family members of football players -- that broke the will of players to continue the boycott.

And in a sign of growing supporting for the unnamed female student who brought charges against the football players, about 200 people held a rally on the campus to back her. In subzero temperatures, many rally participants carried signs in which the slogan "Boys Will Be Boys" was changed to say "Boys Will Be Held Responsible."


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