Minnesota football players are boycotting all team activities, protesting against the indefinite suspensions of 10 of their teammates, suspensions they believe to be unjust.
Earlier this week, the university announced indefinite suspensions for 10 players stemming from the findings of a university investigation into an early September incident in which sexual assault has been alleged. That investigation by the university's office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action was separate from a police investigation into the incident, which yielded no charges.
The team announced the boycott Thursday night, saying it will last until the players' demands are met. Those demands include a meeting without the presence of university president Eric Kaler or athletic director Mark Coyle, who the players view as responsible for the suspensions.
The boycott could affect the team's rapidly approaching bowl game, a matchup against Washington State in the Holiday Bowl, slated for Dec. 27 in San Diego.
Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky spoke on behalf of the team, reading a statement to members of the media on Thursday night.
"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 Kaler have breached (his) duty not only to the 10 falsely accused but to all of us. We demand a meeting with board of regents (Michael D.) Hsu and (Darrin M.) 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 involved are lifted. We further request that Kaler and Coyle (make) an apology and demand that these leaders are held accountable for their actions. The decisions for the players to take this stance is not easy but important to the actions to preserve the integrity of the program and ourselves.
"We note 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."
According to the Star Tribune, five of the suspended players are facing expulsion from the school: KiAnte Hardin, Ray Buford, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson and Carlton Djam. Four are facing a one-year suspension: Antoine Winfield Jr., Seth Green, Mark Williams and Kobe McCrary. And one, Antonio Shenault, could receive probation.
The players seemed to be most upset with Coyle, who is in his first year as Minnesota's athletic director after coming over from Syracuse.
"We got no answers to our questions about why these kids were suspended when they were just found not guilty by the law. So when we had questions for him, he basically told us that he didn't have answers," Wolitarsky said. "And that led us to believe that this was kind of unjust. He has the power to reverse this, and he won't. And because these kids were this close — kids who were not part of an event, kids who were off doing other things, were this close to going to prison for things they didn't do. So as a player, it became more than a game for me and it did, as you can see, for this whole team, about the livelihoods of these kids afterwards, after football. That's why we come here. We come here to get a degree, we come here to make a life for ourselves. And these kids' reputations have been ruined."
When told that Coyle said the previous day that the suspensions were the decision of head coach Tracy Claeys, Wolitarsky called that a flat-out lie.
"That's not true," Wolitarskly said. "(Clayes) doesn't have the power to do that. Mark Coyle has the power to do that, and Mark Coyle did it."
It's an impressive display of team unity and will surely fall into the discussion of student-athlete rights and the increasing demonstrations of their power when organized.
"We're in this together," Wolitarsky said. "What are they going to pull 120 guys off the team? They can't have a team if that's the case."
Watch the entire press conference below: