As fallout over the University of Minnesota football program’s sexual misconduct crisis continues, U officials have demonstrated a singular tone-deafness that is further damaging the school’s image.
Let’s start with head coach Tracy Claeys, who said he knows he took a risk last week by tweeting support for his players’ boycott and telling them he might lose his job over it. That may make him a hero in the players’ eyes, but it shows a colossal lack of awareness about the issue at hand. What exactly was he defending? The code of conduct for university athletes is explicit and wide-ranging. They are to conduct themselves on and off the field with “honesty, integrity and character, whether it be academically, athletically or socially.”
Some of the 10 suspended players are accused of taking turns having sex with an inebriated female student. The athletic department is not required to find a criminal-level of conduct before suspending a player.
Claeys, in short, should have owned the discipline that was meted out to the suspended players, not praised the rest of the team for its short-lived revolt. He should have been the first to tell the accused players that whether or not they could be convicted of a crime, their behavior violated university standards. As regards the rest of the team, Claeys might have suggested they reacquaint themselves with the code-of-conduct pledge they took.
Also disturbing were the remarks made over the weekend by U Board of Regents chairman Dean Johnson, in which he said of the boycotters, “I don’t 100 percent agree with what [they] did, but I commend them for their courage.” Although he made clear that the university condemns sexual harassment and assault, Johnson also questioned suspensions “without hearing” and said of Claeys’ defense of the players in the threatened boycott, “Well, if he doesn’t support his players and you go to the Holiday Bowl, guess what? I don’t think they’re going to play too hard for you.”
Frankly, Regent Johnson, most Minnesotans could not care less if the Gophers beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl; they simply want the off-the-field disgraces to stop and for their world-class university to receive national news coverage for its research breakthroughs, not scandal after scandal in its men’s sports programs. In any case, the players should know that, in a dispute, the most visible action is not necessarily the most courageous.
As leader of the Board of Regents, Johnson should be defending the university’s reputation and standards, not making excuses for the head football coach or intimating that something is lacking in the university’s disciplinary procedures.
Johnson and his fellow regents — who are selected by the Legislature to govern the university and safeguard its enormous resources for the benefit of all Minnesotans — are expected to “enhance the public image” of the U, and the student-athlete code of conduct rightly states that athletics are “a window to the university.”
Once again that window is broken and in need of repair. In the weeks ahead, Minnesotans will learn if Johnson, his fellow regents and university administrators are serious about bringing about needed change.