Although the Gophers’ boycott is over, I cannot ignore a disturbing parallel between the University of Minnesota student-athletes’ abortive actions and those of President-elect Donald J. Trump.
Senior receiver Drew Wolitarsky first drew my attention to this similarity in his prepared statement announcing the boycott, when he demanded to meet with the Board of Regents “to discuss how to make our program great again.”
I shuddered at Wolitarksy’s choice of words. Whether a deliberate nod to Trump’s cheap catchphrase or not, the toxic masculinity embedded in both the Gophers’ petulant and ill-conceived boycott and in Trump’s campaign is unacceptable, and damningly serves to perpetuate rape culture.
Infamously, Trump has boasted about the privilege celebrities possess to sexually assault with impunity. “[W]hen you’re a star, they let you do it,” he said on a video recording that made news in October. “You can do anything.”
Thankfully, according to the U, you can’t do anything. By suspending these 10 players, officials firmly defended our values as a university community.
Let’s get one thing straight that many people, including members of the football team, seem to refuse to understand. Because of Title IX (signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972), the U uses a lower standard of evidence than applies in criminal justice investigations (preponderance of evidence, rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt) to punish students for sexual misconduct.
The athletes should have known the U’s affirmative consent policy when they committed the assault. If they didn’t, they should know now. Yet, the players still tried to fool us into believing they were the ones who are somehow mistreated. While some fell for these theatrics, U President Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle thankfully did not.
As in many sexual assault investigations, we may never know exactly what transpired that morning. But after reading the Equal Opportunity Affirmative Action report, it’s clear the U’s decision is more than justified.
If you haven’t read the EOAA report, I encourage you to do so, if you can stomach it. Ultimately, it seems that pouring over the disturbing details of what took place early that September morning convinced enough of the players, and their parents, that the stand they took was on remarkably wobbly ground.
In announcing their boycott in “Trumpian” style, the players showed concern only for themselves. There was zero recognition for the scourge of sexual violence that plagues our campus and many others. Worse, there was no concern for their teammates’ victim.
Rhetorically, the players have since changed their tune. They have acknowledged that there is another party involved, and that a wider problem exists. However, they haven’t gone so far as to recognize her as a victim of assault.
For the players who treated this woman as an object of their gratification — a “perk” of their athletic scholarship — Wolitarksy’s words of treating women “with the utmost respect at all times” ring hollow.
Similarly, empty denials such as Trump’s “nobody respects women more than me” are useless. When it comes to respecting women, it’s our actions that we men should be judged by.
Failing to take accountability for heinous actions, calling victims liars, harassing victim-survivors, and whining on Twitter about being called out for transgressions, as the football team has so brazenly done since this incident, all mirror Trump’s playbook. Survivors should be believed and supported, not sued, as Trump and the players’ attorney have threatened to do.
According to the players’ most recent statement, they are ready to call an audible. They pledged to use their status to “bring more exposure to sexual harassment and violence against women.”
To make the football program truly “great,” its apparent culture of toxic masculinity must be addressed internally, coaches included. Additionally, the team should use its platform to promote resources like the Aurora Center, a U safe haven for victims of sexual violence, at its games and in the community.
As members of the U community with a powerful platform, football players have a duty to be leaders. They’ve already gone a step further than President-elect Trump by acknowledging that there is a problem, and that they have a role to play in fixing it. Now the Gophers must prove by their actions that they meant it.
Sami Rahamim is a student at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.