The University of Minnesota’s football players announced on Thursday that the entire team would boycott practices and other team activities — even a December 27 appearance in the Holiday Bowl, if need be — to protest the university’s suspension of 10 players from the team in connection with a campus investigation of a sexual-assault complaint.
According to the Star Tribune, in Minneapolis, the players met privately on Thursday afternoon, then informed their head coach, Tracy Claeys, of their decision. Gathered at a university building on Thursday night to publicly announce their boycott, the players accused the university’s president, Eric W. Kaler, and athletic director, Mark Coyle, of unjustly punishing the suspended athletes “for things they didn’t do.”
There have been no criminal charges in the sexual-assault case, which was investigated by the university’s equal-opportunity and affirmative-action office. According to the Star Tribune, the investigation followed a female student’s complaint that several of the players had sexually assaulted her in early September. The involvement of the other players is unclear.
Mr. Kaler said in a letter to university boosters on Wednesday that Mr. Claeys had made the decision to suspend the players, but team members said on Thursday that they did not believe the decision had come from their coach. The Minneapolis newspaper also reported that other sources had told it that the decision was made at a higher level.
The Minnesota team’s action is a reminder of the potential power of college athletes to unite behind a broader cause, following an example at the University of Missouri that made national headlines a year ago. In November 2015, the Missouri football team put its weight behind other protesters of racial injustice on Missouri’s flagship campus to demand the resignation of the system’s president, which occurred within days of the team’s announcement.
Complicating the situation in Minnesota, however, is the volatile context of campus sexual assault, and the pressure on universities to promptly investigate complaints and for athletics departments to stay out of the way when those investigations involve their players.