MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Gophers football players are boycotting all team activities, effectively immediately, over what they consider the "unjust" suspensions of 10 of their teammates.
The entire Gophers football team gathered at their practice facility Thursday night to announce the boycott.
"Effectively immediately, we will boycott all football activities," wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky said. "The boycott will remain in effect until due process is followed and the suspensions for all 10 players are lifted."
The boycott was motivated by a “disappointing” meeting with Athletic Director Mark Coyle, where the team says they were not given answers to their questions about why the players were suspended.
“We’re concerned that our brothers have been named publicly with reckless disregard and violation of their constitutional rights," Wolitarsky said. "We are now compelled to speak for our team and take back our program.”
The players are requesting a meeting with the Board of Regents, without the presence of Coyle or President Eric Kaler, to address the suspensions. They are also demanding that Kaler and Coyle apologize and be held accountable for their actions.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner said the whole team met together to make this decision.
“These kids reputations are destroyed, their names are destroyed,” Leidner said. “It’s extremely difficult to get back. It’s unfair to them and that’s why we’re sticking together through this thing.”
Wolitarsky said the team wants to take back their program and make it great again.
“This decision for the players to take a stance is not easy, but important to the action to improve the integrity of the program and ourselves,” Wolitarsky said.
Head coach Tracy Claeys appears to be supporting the actions of his players, saying on Twitter: "Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights and support their effort to make a better world!"
The Gophers are scheduled to play Washington State in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27.
Statement from Mark Neville, Executive Director, National Funding Holiday Bowl:
“We are continuing to prepare for the National Funding Holiday Bowl on December 27, however, we are aware of the situation at the University of Minnesota and are monitoring it closely.”
Statement from President Kaler and Athletic Director Coyle in response to the team's announcement:
"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 of 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 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 do that over the coming days. It's important that we continue to work together as we move through this difficult time."
10 players suspended
On Tuesday, the team learned 10 players had been suspended indefinitely following the results of internal University of Minnesota investigation into the allegations, conducted by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. Some of the 10 Gophers players are facing not just team suspensions, but expulsion from the university.
The players are: redshirt freshman Ray Buford, redshirt sophomore running back Carlton Djam, freshman quarterback Seth Green, sophomore defensive back KiAnte Hardin, redshirt freshman defensive back Dior Johnson, freshman defensive lineman Tamarion Johnson, junior running back Kobe McCrary, sophomore defensive back Antonio Shenault, freshman quarterback Mark Williams and freshman defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr.
Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson were suspended earlier this season for violating team rules after a woman accused them of sexual assault. No criminal charges were ever filed and the players were then reinstated. But the woman went to court and took out restraining orders barring the athletes from TCF Bank Stadium. Both sides eventually reached an agreement after the woman testified, detailing a graphic encounter with multiple players.