Gophers players threaten to boycott bowl over teammate suspensions

BY Zack Pierce • December 16, 2016

Golden Gophers players on Thursday gathered in the team's practice facility and threatened to boycott Minnesota's bowl game over the news this week that 10 players will be suspended in the wake of an early-season incident.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune first reported the team's plans, and shortly thereafter wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky led a full contingent of Gophers in reading a prepared statement to the media.

"We are concerned that our brothers have been named publicly, with reckless disregard, in violation of their constitutional rights," Wolitarsky said before demanding a member with two members of Minnesota's Board of Regents without the university president or athletic director present.

The purpose? "Effective immediately, we will boycott all football activities," Wolitarsky said. "The boycott will remain in effect until due process is followed and the suspensions for all 10 players are lifted."

The wild turn in this story comes two days after the school announced the punishments for a group of players stemming from a sexual assault allegation in September. In the week following that alleged incident, four of the players were suspended, but they were reinstated after three games because no charges were pressed. The alleged victim in the incident filed restraining orders against the four suspended players and a fifth, though the restraining orders were dismissed in a settlement on Nov. 2. Weeks after the criminal investigation concluded, the university opted to deliver the latest suspensions. Some of the players face potential expulsion from the school.

Gophers players met Thursday, the Star Tribune reported, then spoke to head coach Tracy Claeys about their intentions to boycott. The team is scheduled to face Washington State in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27, and the statement asked for the bowl committee to "be patient" as the school considers the players' demands.

The seeds of this appeared to germinate on social media earlier in the day, when several Gophers players took to Twitter to post various messages of support for the players with the hashtag #WeHadEnough.

The Gophers went 8-4 this season to make their fifth straight bowl appearance, but it was in the early morning hours after the season's very first game that a woman claimed she had been assaulted by some of the players. Though the police investigation did not result in charges, the university's office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action conducted its own investigation, culminating in Tuesday's suspensions of DB Ray Buford, RB Carlton Djam, DB KiAnte Hardin, DB Dior Johnson, DL Tamarion Johnson, QB Seth Green, RB Kobe McCrary, QB Mark Williams, DB Antoine Winfield Jr., and DB Antonio Shenault. Not all of those players were named in the assault case and their involvement remains unclear, the Star Tribune said.

The EOAA's report did not provide any additional information on the suspensions due to "privacy restrictions," and Wolitarsky's statement indicated that the team also did not receive satisfactory answers.

McCrary was the Gophers' fourth-leading rusher on the season with 39 carries for 242 yards and three touchdowns. Hardin and Winfield are starters in Minnesota's defensive backfield, where Buford and Shenault also saw significant time.

Here's the video and transcription of the entire statement from Wolitarsky, which singles out university president Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle:

We as a team and as friends and brothers have a statement to make.

We the United Gopher Football Team issue this statement to take back the reputation and integrity of our program and our brothers that have faced unjust Title IX investigation without due process. We are 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.

This movement was largely motivated by a recent and disappointing meeting conducted by Mark Coyle. We wanted answers, but received misleading statements. Moreover the actions by President Kaler have breached fiduciary duty not only to the 10 falsely accused but all of us. We demand a meeting with Board of Regents Hsu and Rosha, without the presence of Kaler and Coyle, to discuss how to make our program great again. We also want to address the unjust suspensions and other concerns in this closed-door meeting.

Effective immediately, we will boycott all football activities. The boycott will remain in effect until due process is followed and the suspensions for all 10 players are lifted. We further request that Kaler and Coyle [issue an] apology and demand that these leaders are held accountable for their actions. This decision for the players to take this stance is not easy but important to the action to preserve the integrity of the program and ourselves.

We know that the Holiday Bowl committee, Washington State and the fans are affected by this decision. To that end, we respectfully request that the Holiday Bowl committee be patient during this time while Mark Coyle considers reversing his decision to suspend. We also want to request that Mark Coyle make his decision with due haste.

Finally, we request that the university refrain from retaliation of our coaches, players and fans. This effort is by players and for players. Thank you.

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