Minnesota football players have announced they will boycott all football activities, including the team's appearance in the Holiday Bowl against Washington State, if necessary, over the school's decision to suspend 10 players after an investigation into an alleged sexual assault at an off-campus apartment in September was re-opened.
The school announced Tuesday that Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, Seth Green, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson, Kobe McCrary, Antonio Shenault, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr. were all banned from team activities. Four of those players have been suspended previously this season.
Ray Buford Sr., the father of defensive back Ray Buford Jr., told the Associated Press the new suspensions resulted from an investigation by the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action and confirmed that an attorney for his son and other players planned to appeal the suspensions.
On Thursday, the the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that a players-only meeting resulted in the decision to boycott. Coach Tracy Claeys was informed before the players made their announcement official.
"As a player, it became more than a game for me," wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky said, per the Star Tribune, while speaking on behalf of his team. "And I know it did, as you can see, for the whole team. It's about the livelihood of these kids, after football. Because that's why we came here; we came here to get a degree. We come here to make a life for ourselves, and these kids' reputations have been ruined."
Wolitarsky stated the team's demands, which include a closed door meeting with the Board of Regents to discuss the future of the program. Until then, the players will not participate in any football-related activities.
"We're concerned that our brothers have been named publicly with reckless disregard, in violation of their constitutional rights. We are now compelled to speak for our team and take back our program," Wolitarsky told reporters. "This movement was largely motivated by a recent and disappointing meeting conducted by [athletic director] Mark Coyle. We wanted answers but received misleading statements. Moreover the actions by president [Eric] Kaler have breached fiduciary duty, not only to the 10 falsely accused, but all of us.
"We demand a meeting with the Board of Regents, without the presence of Kaler and Coyle, to discuss how to make our program great again. We also want to discuss the unjust suspensions and other concerns in this closed door meeting."
According to police records released Wednesday and obtained by the Assocated Press, "the woman told police she was drunk when she was sexually assaulted in Djam's apartment by several men, including some of the suspended players."
Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson were all previously suspended for three games for an unspecified violation of team rules. According to the Star Tribune, police investigated the Sept. 2 allegation and later declined to press charges. The alleged victim, part of the Minnesota game-day operations staff, filed a restraining order -- against those four players and Carlton Djam -- that was dismissed in a settlement on Nov. 2.
In the police reports released this week, the alleged victim said her sexual contact with two men may have been consensual, but her contact with four of them was not.
The Minnesota administration responded to the boycott with a statement promising to work on an "open dialogue" with the players over the coming days.
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 that not everyone can have all 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 and 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 that over the coming days. It's important that we continue to work together as we move through this difficult time.
The Holiday Bowl is set for Dec. 27.