Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson collected about 1,400 pills of the prescription sedative Xanax that members of his team were ready to sell, yet did not report the drug issue to police, one wrestler told the Star Tribune on Wednesday.

University of Minnesota officials confirmed that campus police are investigating alleged drug abuse by members of the wrestling team but would not comment further.

Robinson did not respond to a voicemail message on his cellphone, the university would not make President Eric Kaler available for comment, and a school spokesman said interim athletic director Beth Goetz and incoming AD Mark Coyle were both traveling and unavailable for comment.

The wrestler, who spoke to the Star Tribune on the condition of anonymity, said he talked to police about Robinson’s handling of the team’s Xanax issue.

The source said that at one point, four teammates had a stash of 2,500 Xanax pills they had obtained in the mail from a former teammate and were selling from the 17th Avenue Hall dormitory on campus.

“It was $5 a pill for anyone on the team and $8 for anyone else,” said the source, who estimates that 10 to 12 members of the team were abusing Xanax. He said wrestlers also sold pills to athletes from other Gophers sports.

Robinson, 69, completed his 30th season at Minnesota this spring and has an impressive resume in his three decades in Dinkytown. Since taking the job in 1986, the three-time National Coach of the Year has brought the Gophers to three national championships, the only titles in program history.

In late March, less than one week after the season ended, Robinson called a team meeting, the source said.

“We thought it was a typical meeting with J,” the source said. “But then he started saying, ‘I know who’s taking the pills, I know who’s selling them, I know who’s stealing them.’

“He said, ‘It’s Easter weekend. I’ll be in my office Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If you’re involved, come and tell me. If you have any pills, bring them to my office and I’ll dispose of them, and I’ll give you amnesty.’ ”

“Half of it went in the river, and half of it went to J. I know for a fact the people who were selling it dumped it and gave him about 1,400 [pills].” The source did not elaborate on the dumping location.

The source told the Star Tribune, “I only [spoke to police] because I felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Xanax is one of the most frequently prescribed psychiatric drugs in the United States and also one of the most frequently abused for its extreme sedating and intoxicating effects. Addicts often grow tolerant of the medication and crave higher, potentially deadly doses. Xanax is in a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders.

The coach’s approach

Robinson tried to handle the Xanax issue internally, the source told the Star Tribune. He ordered suspected users to undergo mandatory urine testing and had them write a one-page essay. On April 5, the coach texted some team members with a reminder about their assignment.

Robinson’s text, which was obtained by the Star Tribune, said: “Remember that paper is due on my desk by tomorrow evening. #1 What emotion you’re feeling by getting caught, by letting yourself, your teammates, your parents down, how did it feel and do you want to feel that way again? #2 what did you learn from this? 3 what are you going to do different. Your plan so does not happen again.”

Another wrestler who spoke to the Star Tribune on the condition of anonymity said he did not receive that same text message, but later received an e-mail from U police who were investigating the wrestling team.

“I’ve been around J for a while, and this is the first time anything of that level has hit our program,” the second source said. “Obviously we were a younger team last season, and this was more a younger issue. A few guys came in that maybe weren’t ready for the college transition.”

On Tuesday night, after Fox 9 TV first reported that four Gophers wrestlers were being investigated for selling Xanax, the university issued a statement that said: “The University takes allegations of this nature seriously, and upon receiving information the University provided it to UMPD. In consultation with UMPD, the University is allowing for the legal investigation to conclude before conducting its own internal investigation. As it remains part of an active investigation, we do not have anything additional to share at this time.”

A university police report filed on April 11 is devoid of names and details but says the incident in question occurred from Jan. 18 to March 23 of this year. The offense description says, “Doesn’t fit any [crime].”

Implications for Robinson?

The alleged incident could be seen as a direct breach of Robinson’s contract, which was extended last summer through 2020. The contract says the university can suspend payments or terminate Robinson without paying any buyout if he violates “any policy of the university or law involving moral turpitude.”

Minnesota’s policy addressing concerns of misconduct says that “anyone who in good faith believes that a violation of the law will occur, is occurring or has occurred at the university should report their concern.”

Robinson’s contract also states he can be terminated for “failure to report any and all serious, major or secondary violations which, in the judgment of the university, coach knew or should have known about with reasonable diligence and oversight.”

 

Star Tribune staff writer Jeremy Olson contributed to this report.