The University of Minnesota football team is threatening to boycott one of the nation’s best-known and most lucrative second-tier bowl games over the suspension of 10 players accused of participating in a sexual assault. Prosecutors decided there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges, and the players thought the matter was behind them. But a separate school investigation concluded Wednesday that the athletes violated a policy adopted last year that defines sexual assault as anything without a “clear and unambiguous” expression of consent.
Now, less than two weeks before the Golden Gophers’ scheduled Dec. 27 face-off with Washington State, the walkout threatens to upend the Holiday Bowl.
“The boycott will remain in effect until due process is followed and the suspensions for all 10 players are lifted,” senior receiver Drew Wolitarsky said, reading from a prepared statement while flanked by all of his teammates. “We further request that (President Eric) Kaler and (athletic director Mark) Coyle (apologize) and demand that these leaders are held accountable for their actions. This decision for the players to take this stance is not easy, but important to preserve the integrity of the program and ourselves.”
Ray Buford Sr., the father of defensive back Ray Buford Jr., said the new suspensions resulted from an investigation by the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action that was separate from earlier investigations into the alleged assault in the early hours of Sept. 2.
Buford Jr., KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson were suspended for three games when their names came up in the police investigation. The players were not arrested, prosecutors decided not to press charges and the players returned to the team. The restraining order was lifted after a settlement on Nov. 2.
The other six players are defensive backs Antonio Shenault and Antoine Winfield Jr., running backs Carlton Djam and Kobe McCrary, and quarterbacks Seth Green and Mark Williams. Hardin and Winfield are starters and Buford and Shenault are key reserves.
The school has recommended expulsion for Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson and Djam and one-year suspensions for the other five players.
According to police records, a woman told officers she was drunk when she was sexually assaulted in Djam’s apartment by several men on Sept. 2, including some of the suspended players. She said her sexual contact with two men may have been consensual, but her contact with four of them was not. Several players told police it was consensual, and an investigator who watched a video Djam took of the incident wrote that “she does not appear to be upset by the sexual activity and does not indicate that she wants it to stop … and the sexual contact appears entirely consensual.”