Gophers willing to bow out of bowl
minneapolis» The University of Minnesota football team is threatening to boycott one of the nation’s best known and most lucrative second-tier bowl games over the suspension of 10 players accused of participating in a sexual assault.
Prosecutors decided there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges, and the players thought the matter was behind them. But a separate school investigation concluded Wednesday that the athletes violated a policy adopted last year that defines sexual assault as anything without a “clear and unambiguous” expression of consent.
Now, less than two weeks before the Gophers’ scheduled Dec. 27 game with Washington State in San Diego, the walkout threatens to upend the Holiday Bowl.
The entire team gathered Thursday to tell reporters it won’t practice or play unless the suspensions are revoked. Several players also are facing possible expulsion.
“All these kids’ reputations are destroyed,” senior quarterback Mitch Leidner said. “Their names are destroyed. It’s extremely difficult to get back, and it’s unfair for them, and that’s why we’re sticking together through this thing.”
In a joint statement issued Friday, Minnesota president Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle called the suspensions “a values-based decision,” not a legal judgment.
“But we can tell you that certain behavior is simply unacceptable and antithetical to our institutional values. We support Gopher Athletics’ decision because this is much bigger than football,” the news release said.
The administration said it offered to meet with players Friday, but the offer wasn’t accepted.
Sexual misconduct already had been a sensitive subject for the Big Ten university and for its athletic department. Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague resigned in August 2015 amid allegations of sexual harassment. His replacement, Coyle, was brought in with emphatic orders not to tolerate such behavior, and he played a key role in the decision to suspend the players.
School officials declined to say why the players were suspended or provide any details of the internal investigation, citing student privacy rules. But an attorney for several of the suspended players and the father of one of them confirmed the action was taken in connection with an alleged sexual assault in an apartment near campus in the early hours of Sept. 2, after the Gophers won their season opener.
According to police reports, the woman who made the complaint attended a few parties before ending up in the off-campus apartment of the Gophers’ Carlton Djam and Tamarion Johnson. The police reports said she accompanied Djam and a male whose name was redacted to Djam’s room, where she had sex with both of them at the same time.
After the unnamed male left, she said the Gophers’ Tamarion Johnson entered the room and that she had sex with him too. She said she remembered seeing several people watching.
“She described it as a line of people, like they were waiting for their turn . ... She recalls yelling for them to stop sending people in the room because she couldn’t handle it,” one of the police reports said.
The woman said she recalled at least three other men forcing themselves on her, including players Dior Johnson and Ray Buford Jr. She told police the sexual contact between her and Djam and the unnamed man may have been consensual, but that it was not consensual with the others.
She was not sure if she had sex with player KiAnte Hardin, though he told police they did and that she agreed to it.
Minnesota wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, flanked by quarterback Mitch Leidner, left, and tight end Duke Anyanwu, stands with other teammates Thursday night while he announces a teamwide boycott of all football activities. Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune