All the Ways the Minnesota Football Team's Boycott Statement Is Incorrect

Minnesota's statement and threatened boycott are bad ideas based on faulty premises.

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Dec 16 2016, 8:20pm

Photo by Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With the backing of at least some of their coaches, University of Minnesota football players announced on Thursday that they were threatening to boycott the Holiday Bowl against Washington State unless the ten players who were suspended indefinitely earlier this week are reinstated.

Those players were suspended, according to the university, due to their role in an alleged sexual assault earlier this year. While the players were not charged by county prosecutors, the university proceeded with a Title IX investigation, as mandated by federal law. These proceedings are mandated in order to ensure everyone at the campus can feel safe; while the level of proof required in Title IX investigations is not as high as needed for a criminal conviction, universities must act if they determine that it is more likely than not that an unsafe situation was created.

The Office of Educational Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) ended its investigation—you can read the whole report here—recommending that five of the players be expelled from the school, four receive a one-year suspension, and one receive probation. They were promptly suspended by athletic director Mark Coyle, apparently without the cooperation of head coach Tracy Claeys.

Claeys tweeted this Thursday night:

Gophers wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky read the following statement 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 President Kaler have breached fiduciary duty. Not only to the ten 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 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 offer an apology and demand that these leaders are held accountable for their actions.

This decision for the players to take a stance is not easy, but important to the action to preserve the integrity of the program and ourselves. The 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 the University refrain from retaliation of our coaches, players and fans. This effort is by the players and for the players."

Wolitarsky also said, "We got no answers to our questions about why these kids were suspended when they were found not guilty by law."

Let's break down all of the factual errors in this thing, starting with that last sentence.

"We got no answers to our questions about why these kids were suspended when they were found not guilty by law."

The players were not "found not guilty by law." "Law" never entered the equation, because prosecutors decided there wasn't enough evidence to mount a successful case, and declined to bring charges. However "did not bring charges" does not mean "innocent." It simply means prosecutors don't believe they can win the case by proving that a sexual assault occurred beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard in criminal law.

"... have faced an unjust Title IX investigation..."

Independent of the criminal process, the federal government requires schools to investigate instances of alleged sexual violence. If schools find that sexual violence did occur, then they must act to make sure their campuses are safe.

According to the 2011 Dear Colleague letter from the Department of Education, schools must take action if the preponderance of evidence shows that something occurred—that is, if it is "more likely than not" that something occurred. Some schools had previously used the "clear and convincing" standard of proof, which is higher.

The university's own rules state that there needs to be affirmative consent by all parties for sex to occur. This is different from Minnesota state law, which says sex cannot happen if a person says no.

Perhaps the players don't understand what the standard of proof is in a Title IX investigation, or why the criminal process is unrelated to that. The fact remains that Minnesota had to do a Title IX investigation. That's the law.

"... without due process."

It's unclear how anyone could say that the suspended players were not afforded "due process." They were initially suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules when the assault was first reported. That suspension ended when prosecutors declined to press charges and a restraining order was lifted when both sides agreed to a settlement in court. They then were allowed to continue playing while the federally required Title IX investigation was ongoing. When the investigation finished, they were suspended. And they can appeal the suspension.

This is, by definition, due process.

"We are concerned that our brothers have been named publicly with reckless disregard in violation of their constitutional rights."

Now you're just throwing around legal-sounding terms. Your brothers were named publicly with "reckless disregard" because their lawyer named them publicly and announced what the punishments were. The only thing the university said was that some players were suspended, it did not even say why they were suspended. From the school:

"Due to privacy restrictions relating to student educational data, there is nothing further the university can share."

Moreover, this has nothing to do with Constitutional rights. Absolutely nothing. This is not a criminal proceeding, and nobody is denying players their right to anything. To the contrary, the school would have been denying rights to women on campus if it had found a preponderance of evidence that sexual misconduct occurred, and then did nothing.

"... to discuss how to make our program great again."

You're gonna use a catchphrase from President-elect Donald Trump, a proud misogynist whose other catchphrase is "grab them by the pussy"? That's not exactly the best choice of words, and very arguably spitting in the face of the alleged victim.

While we in the public can't judge all of the evidence that went into the school's decision—because the university has, despite the players' claims, kept this incident as confidential as it can be—we can judge the procedure, and it appears from what has been reported that Minnesota handled this the right way. The players are upset that their friends are in trouble, which is understandable, but their statement conflates and mischaracterizes both Title IX proceedings and the criminal process, either willfully or through unfortunate ignorance.