The boycott is over. The national discussion they sparked is not — and that’s why Gophers football players say they’re proud of the dramatic stance they took last week against the University of Minnesota.
Two days after ending the boycott of all football activities, a dozen Gophers players sat down with the Star Tribune on Monday night, reflecting on decisions they made with little regrets.
Nick Rallis, Drew Wolitarsky, Gaelin Elmore and the other players said they shed national light on what they see as a lack of fairness in university investigations such as the sexual assault case that erupted last week. The players launched the boycott Thursday, demanding the athletic department reinstate 10 players it suspended from the team Tuesday before their appeals hearings.
The boycott ended Saturday, with no concessions from the university and coach Tracy Claeys openly wondering about his future in the job.
“If people wonder, ‘Now that you’ve stopped boycotting, do you regret it?’ Absolutely not,” Rallis said. “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.”
The boycott also brought widespread criticism from those who viewed their stance as tone-deaf toward sexual violence, since the 10 players were suspended in connection with an alleged Sept. 2 sexual assault.
“The most important thing is, this was not a stance about sexual misconduct,” Rallis said. “It’s not our place to say whether they committed misconduct, and those found responsible will be held accountable.”
The players acknowledged that the 80-page report from the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) filled with the alleged sexual assault’s details changed the boycott’s dynamic. KSTP-TV posted it online Friday, making it public for the first time. But the players said it had a different effect than news reports portrayed.
“The leaked report never changed our message,” junior Adekunle Ayinde said. “The only thing that changed was the public perception of that message.”
With public criticism growing, the players had less leverage. They tried negotiating with university President Eric Kaler on Friday night, but soon realized they weren’t going to get the 10 suspensions lifted.
The team’s leadership group met through the night and persuaded the majority to end the boycott Saturday, shortly before a deadline for the Gophers to decide whether to play in the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
“It wasn’t an easy choice, obviously, because our original message was, ‘We want those [suspended] guys back,’ ” Wolitarsky said. “But we realize the way to get those guys an equal and fair hearing, was to end the boycott, and gain more time to give our stance.”
As Wolitarsky noted, if the Gophers had followed through with their boycott, the season would have ended with players going their separate ways. But now they remain in the spotlight, in preparation for their game against Washington State.
“I think now we’re just trying to get people to slowly understand,” Rallis said. “We are going to go down there to represent those 10 guys and how they were mistreated in the process.”
The Gophers also said they took a stand against an administration — namely Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle — who gave the team minimal explanation for the suspensions, citing federal privacy laws.
“The combination of [the suspended players] not being able to defend themselves, with the complete lack of communication is what led to this [boycott],” Elmore said.
As for the long-term impact the boycott could have on Claeys and his staff?
“At the end of the day, this is a player-led movement, for the players, by the players,” senior Duke Anyanwu said. “We love and appreciate all the coaches, every last one. ...
“And it’s very true: Our coaches could lose their jobs. A lot of them have put a lot on the line for us, and we haven’t asked them to do so. That’s just them being supportive of us.”