Update: 9:10 p.m.
Statement from University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle:
“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 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.”
Original story: 7:36 p.m.
Minnesota, ahead of its Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl matchup with Washington State in San Diego, announced Tuesday that 10 players were indefinitely suspended from the team.
In response, the suspended players’ teammates announced Thursday evening they will boycott “all football activities” until the school rescinds the suspensions. The decision was made after a players-only meeting.
Gophers receiver Drew Wolitarsky, with quarterback Mitch Leidner and tight end Duke Anyanwu at his side, addressed reporters with the entire team behind him. In a prepared statement, Wolitarsky, after announcing the plan to boycott, requested university president Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle be “held accountable for their actions.”
Sources have told the Star Tribune the University of Minnesota football players will announce Thursday evening that they are boycotting all football practice and team activities — even their Dec. 27 bowl game if need be — in protest of 10 teammates being suspended from the team Tuesday in the latest fallout of a September sexual assault investigation.
The Gophers had a players-only meeting Thursday afternoon and later brought in head coach Tracy Claeys to inform him of their plans, sources said. According to two parents of players, all of the team’s players are planning a united announcement Thursday evening to say they are immediately boycotting team activities and are willing to boycott the Holiday Bowl if “their demands are not met” — a reference to their teammates being reinstated and reversing the decision to suspend the 10 players.
The suspension to the 10 players — Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson, Seth Green, Kobe McCrary, Antonio Chenault, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr. — reportedly stems from a university investigation into sexual assault allegations from September. Four of the players, Buford, Hardin, Johnson and Johnson, were suspended for the first three games of the season following the accusation.
The attorney representing the 10 players, Lee Hutton, told the Star Tribune that Minnesota’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office recommended expulsion for Buford, Hardin, Johnson, Johnson and Djam. Additionally, one-year suspensions were recommended for Green, McCrary, Williams and Winfield, and probation was recommended for Antonio Shenault, Hutton said.
Per the Star Tribune, head coach Tracy Claeys is expected to publicly back his players in the boycott:
University President Eric Kaler said in a letter to university boosters dated Wednesday that Claeys made the decision to suspend the players, with support from athletic director Mark Coyle. Coyle echoed that statement when he briefly met with media on Wednesday night. But two sources said Thursday that the decision was made at a level higher than Claeys. The sources expected Claeys to support his team’s boycott.
In October, a criminal investigation into the situation did not yield any arrests or charges and the four initially suspended players were reinstated to the team.
The woman who accused the players of sexual assault works at TCF Bank Stadium on game days and got a restraining order against Buford, Hardin, Johnson, Johnson and Djam in October. The restraining order, which prohibited the players from participating in home games, was dropped in November.