The Minnesota Football Boycott Sounded Like a Social Justice Protest. It Wasn’t.

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University of Minnesota wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, flanked by quarterback Mitch Leidner and tight end Duke Anyanwu, reads a statement on Dec. 15.

Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP Images

Last week, the University of Minnesota football team took a stand. In the name of justice and due process, the Golden Gophers launched a boycott to demand the reinstatement of 10 of their teammates, who were suspended for their roles in an alleged sexual assault of a fellow student. Receiver and team spokesman Drew Wolitarsky defended the reputations of the suspended players and called for more transparency from the university. He said: “The boycott will remain effective until due process is followed and suspensions for all 10 players involved are lifted.” Even after the players resumed football activities to prepare for Tuesday’s Holiday Bowl, the team defended its boycott.

“If people wonder, ‘Now that you’ve stopped boycotting, do you regret it?’ Absolutely not,” linebacker Nick Rallis told the Star Tribune on Tuesday. “The boycott has been successful. It brought national awareness to not only the situation we have on our hands, but a flaw in the system with a lack of due process.”

Boycott. Justice. Awareness. Due process. Transparency. The team’s language and actions seemed to be of a piece with other athlete protests in the age of the great jock awakening. An NBA star gives an ESPY Awards speech about racial injustice. WNBA players stage media blackouts in the name of Black Lives Matter. An NFL player kneels during the national anthem. A college basketball team dons rainbow warmups before a game in Durham, North Carolina, to protest the state’s transgender bathroom law. But the football boycott at Minnesota was different: the tools of social justice agitation being put to reactionary ends.

The saga of the Gophers’ boycott unfolded in just a week’s time: The 10 players were suspended by the university on Dec. 13. The boycott was announced Dec. 15. It was called off Dec. 17. As the Star Tribune reported, the team’s decision to resume practicing came after the publication of the university’s 80-page Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action report, which detailed the findings from the school’s investigation into the alleged assault in September. The university did not make the findings of its Title IX–mandated EOAA investigation public, citing student privacy concerns, but local news station KSTP obtained and published the document on Friday.

The report lays out a nightmarish scene in which a drunk, initially reluctant female student consents to sex with two men at an off-campus apartment, only to have the encounter recorded on camera and shared that night. From there, the report says, the night devolved into a series of assaults. Though she was inebriated and at times confused, the woman said she repeatedly voiced her opposition to sexual contact with some of the accused. Unable to reach her clothes and phone, she wrapped herself in a blanket to shield her body and told those present to stop sending people into the bedroom. Men whose identities were confirmed by interviews and cellphone messages obtained during the university’s investigation allegedly held her shoulders down and forcefully had sex with her. Sometimes it was one man a time; other times it was more. All the while, the report says, men stood at the door watching, laughing, jostling for their turn. The report says that when she finally left the room, its floor littered with used condoms, she “immediately started crying” and jotted down what she could remember of the ordeal, including some names of players. She also wrote, “I need help this isn’t okay.” The next day, she reported the assault to the Minneapolis Police Department.

The university’s EOAA investigation found that four players had violated the school’s policy regarding sexual assault, eight had violated the sexual harassment policy, and 10 had violated the student conduct code by lying to investigators or obscuring evidence.

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