Minnesota College Football Players Silenced For Title IX Protest
December 20, 2016 (Fault Lines) — The amorphous blob of a sexual assault law that isn’t, often referred to here as “Title IX,” clashed last week with another major powerhouse on college campuses. College athletics bring in alumni donations and money arguably as quickly as federal funding, buttressed by “compliance” with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights’ whims.
That’s why the University of Minnesota’s football team announcing a boycott of all football activities, including a bowl game slated for a week from now, over the suspensions of ten players following a Title IX investigation gained national attention.
The boycott ended almost as quickly as it started, with senior Drew Wolitarsky reading from a two-page typed statement affirming the team’s commitment to seeing due process for any student accused of sexual assault. Wolitarsky’s statement also expressed concern for the young woman at the center of the incident, and condemned sexual violence on campus. While it’s back to business for the Golden Gophers, the questionable circumstances surrounding the boycott’s end, the utter disregard for the lives of ten young black men, and what could be viewed as a University decision to value money and prestige over the tarnished reputations of its student body, remain. Lingering questions deserving answers.
A young woman attending the University of Minnesota downed approximately four to five shots of “100 proof vodka” the night of the team’s season opener. She attended several parties after the game, and engaged in sexual relations with what she later felt were ten men. The young lady would admit she was “very drunk to a level she didn’t reach often,” but not “stumbling or falling down drunk.” Soon afterward, she filed a complaint with the University’s Title IX office and called her mother to ask whether she should file a police report.
Mother responded in the affirmative, and the Minneapolis Police Department quickly initiated an investigation which cleared six students of wrongdoing. According to the cops, the accused might have been intoxicated, but nothing from the obtained evidence suggests she did anything against her will. The people paid to investigate crimes and make recommendations to district attorneys saw no sexual assault.
The University’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) response team found differently. Their eighty-page report reads like a certain Rolling Stone story later proven a hoax. It recommended expulsion for some of the ten student-athletes, but the eventual punishment was suspensions for each of varying degrees.
According to Wolitarsky, one of the seniors organizing the boycott, the rest of the team wasn’t happy that neither University President Eric Kaler nor any administrator would tell the team why the players were suspended. Kaler simply deferred to federal privacy laws for his silence.
Someone at the University wasn’t keen on staying silent about the matter. The EOAA report is to be kept confidential, according to the University’s own policies for investigating sexual misconduct. It’s considered “retaliatory conduct” to share “information about a complaint or investigation with other University members who do not have a need to know.” Yet, we know every detail of the EOAA report involving the ten Golden Gopher student-athletes because someone leaked it to a Minneapolis/Saint Paul television station. According to the players, reading the report “changed the narrative” of the boycott and called for an end.
Exactly what “narrative” changed is unclear. The students organizing the boycott and their coach took a stand against the lives of ten young black men being tarnished forever by calling national attention to a system they believed deprived their teammates of appropriate due process. Every member of the Golden Gophers team went to bat for their teammates, vocally opposing a system they thought best left to the courts. None advocated or condoned sexual assault on their campus or any other. Yet their tone quickly changed once someone on campus with access to the EOAA report leaked it to the press.
Schools with teams meeting the requirements for a post-season college bowl game receive ridiculous sums for their participation. Minnesota is part of the Big Ten, a conference with a contractual obligation to participate in the Holiday Bowl. Loss of the game, or controversy surrounding the participants, could harm the conference’s billion dollar television deal. And no one wants to make this year’s sponsors unhappy. Better to silence a few unhappy players and subject them to pressure instead of stick to principles and listen to those who demand full and fair hearings for students accused of sexual assault in campus disciplinary hearings.
More details may unfold well after December 27th about the suspensions of the ten Minnesota football players. It doesn’t change the fact that ten young black men are now labeled as sexual predators at the University of Minnesota. It doesn’t change the fact their teammates decided to draw national attention to a process that gave ten young black men that label. And it doesn’t change the fact that someone at the University of Minnesota violated the school’s policies in what could arguably be seen as a decision to value money over student lives.
The only question left is what price tag someone at the University of Minnesota places on their own integrity for leaking that report.
UPDATE: Lee Hutton, attorney for the ten players, announced that he planned to file “multiple lawsuits” in federal court this week seeking immediate re-instatement of the ten suspended players. Here’s hoping the Eighth Circuit doesn’t follow the Sixth’s lead.