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College Football Team Ends Its Protest Over Sexual Assault Suspensions

Dec 19 2016 8:15 PM
College Football Team Ends Its Protest Over Sexual Assault Suspensions

Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld via Getty

The University of Minnesota football team went on strike last week after 10 of its members were suspended for their involvement in a sexual assault investigation. After reading an 80-page report detailing the alleged victim's horrifying experience, they've announced that their protest is off.

Last Thursday, the University of Minnesota football team announced plans to boycott future practices and games after the school suspended 10 of its players for their involvement in a sexual assault investigation. After reading through an 80-page report that outlined the horrific details of an alleged incident, which took place in September, the team backed down this weekend.

"Once they read the report," a source told the Star Tribune, the "narrative" of the boycott changed. On Saturday morning, the team announced the boycott was over, despite receiving no concessions from school administrators, and that they would resume practice in preparation for the December 27 Holiday Bowl. They had planned to hold out until all 10 of their teammates were reinstated, which would have made them the first team in over 50 years to refuse to play a bowl game in protest.

Read more: Why I Keep Track of Alleged Rape Cases in College Football

"As a team, we understand that what has occurred these past few days, and playing football for the University of Minnesota is larger than just us," said senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky in a prepared statement.

According to the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) report, which was made public last Friday by local media, a female student told investigators she believed "that a total of 10 to 20 men had sex with her" on September 2. She admitted she couldn't know for certain because she'd been drinking and wasn't sure "whether some of the men had multiple sexual encounters with her." She also recalled being pinned down by the shoulders during sex and that "on multiple occasions, more than one man had sex with her at once."

The female student also said that there was a crowd of onlookers "chanting, laughing, cheering and jostling for a position in the line to have sex with [her]," according to the report. Some of them had their phones out and may have been recording her. She also "remembers that the men were arguing over whose 'turn' it was to have sex with her" and told investigators that she "does not recall the onlookers speaking much to her."

After the investigation, school administrators recommended five players who allegedly had sexual contact with the victim—Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson—for expulsion. They also called for four other team members who were otherwise involved—Seth Green, Kobe McCrary, Mark Williams, and Antoine Winfield Jr.—to be suspended for a year and for a tenth player, Antonio Shenault, to be put on probation.

The student "remembers that the men were arguing over whose 'turn' it was to have sex with her."

The Minneapolis Police Department also investigated four players' involvement in the alleged incident, but the district attorney's office chose not to bring charges; according to Twin Cities, both the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis police "said early parts of the encounter appeared to have been consensual," but "the woman said what followed—more men and more sexual contact—was rape." She told investigators that she had said repeatedly that she wanted the men to stop. "On multiple occasions, she suddenly realized what was happening to her and tried to push the men off of her," the report reads. "She remembers pushing men's stomachs in an attempt to get them off of her."

To members of the football team, apparently, the police's decision not to bring charges meant their teammates were innocent, and the school's subsequent suspension was "unjust."

On Saturday, Wolitarsky cleared up what he called a "misperception" of the team's views on sexual assault: "[S]exual harassment and violence against women have no place on this campus, on our team, in our society and at no time is it ever condoned. There is only one acceptable way to treat all women and all men, and that is with the utmost respect at all times."

Kathy Redmond is the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes. She says Minnesota's football team and their response to the school's rape investigation reveals a troubling tendency among those enmeshed in athletic culture to overlook or misunderstand the nature of sexual violence "They don't look and go, 'Is there something I should have done differently? What should I be learning from this?' Because when you have this groupthink culture, you don't need to look into yourself," Redmond says. "You look at your teammates, and if your teammates say it's OK, then it's OK because that's your family and you back your family up."

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One of the reasons why campus sexual assault is happening over and over again, says End Rape on Campus executive director Annie Clark, is that boys are not being educated about consent early enough. "If the first time students are hearing about consent and healthy relationships and sexual assault prevention is at their college orientation," she tells Broadly, "it's already too late."

Clark says it's "unfortunate" that the Minnesota football team decided to stand behind fellow players accused of sexual assault rather than a survivor; she believes group mentality played a part in that. "If you were to ask an individual if this type of behavior is acceptable, they would say, 'Absolutely not,'" she says. "But when they see 120 of their brothers, their teammates, standing behind it, they're going to say yes. We need more people to step out of that and do the right thing."

Athletes could shift the entire conversation on campus sexual assault, Redmond says. What happened at Minnesota "was really a good view of how that culture bonds together around something. Unfortunately, it was around something negative and around something destructive."

"Now," she continues, "imagine what would happen if they would have banded together over something positive."

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