Flanked by fellow Gophers teammates, senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky addressed the media Saturday, announcing the team would disband its boycott of the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl.
The decision comes after players, University of Minnesota regents, Athletics Director Mark Coyle and President Eric Kaler met on multiple occasions Friday to discuss the team's boycott.
The team announced their boycott Thursday evening, calling on Coyle to reverse the suspensions of 10 football players investigated by the schools' Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action in relation to an alleged Sept. 2 sexual assault.
In his statement, Wolitarsky said sexual harassment and violence should never be condoned, and that the team recognized the difference between a "legal threshold" and a "moral threshold."
University President Eric Kaler and Athletics Director Mark Coyle also spoke at the Saturday conference. Kaler said that he promised a fair hearing to the students involved, which would likely occur in January.
Read the transcript of Wolitarsky, Kaler and Coyle's statement from the Saturday morning press conference below:
Wolitarsky: Before I begin here, again, you will have to bear with us, we’ve been up for 30-plus hours — lot of caffeine. So again, I learned a lot from these past couple days. There are no right choices, there are no decisions that do not affect somebody else. This process has been extremely difficult and I’m sure as you all know how stressful this has been for everybody involved.
I also know that our last statement was misinterpreted and I hope to bring some light to that today, with this current statement.
Below is Wolitarsky's reading of the prepared statement:
Wolitarsky: Going off of that, I just want to first state that sexual harassment and violence against women — they have no place on this campus, on our team, in society and at no time should it ever be condoned. We recognize that there is a legal threshold and there is a normal threshold and a standard of values set forward by this university. There is only one acceptable way to treat all women and that is with the utmost respect at all times.
On Tuesday, along with everyone else that you are seeing here, I learned of the suspension of 10 of our teammates. Five of them had been previously suspended for an incident where they were not charged for any crime. We are not here to judge nor defend their actions — that is for the authorities. We also learned that five additional teammates were (indefinitely) suspended. We also learned that the consequences could not be vetted without proper due process.
We are disappointed at the lack of communication from the administration and their unwillingness to share information about the decision, under the cover of student privacy. We also understand that they have requirements that they need to follow about sharing information. Yet, at the same time, we observed how our teammates names and pictures were shared with the world and their reputations were ruined.
We stated that we were going to boycott all team activities until the 10 teammates had their suspensions lifted. We also had a larger goal and that was to have an open discussion about the lack of due process that occurs when an accusation is made against anyone.
After many many hours of discussion within our team, and after speaking with president Kaler, it became clear that our original request of having 10 suspensions overturned was not going to happen.
Our senior group had a meeting meeting with President Kaler and AD Mark Coyle last night, Friday the 16th, where they agreed to the following requests: That all 10 of these players have a fair hearing, which includes a diverse review panel. Number two, a showing of support for our team and the character shown by the great majority of our players. And finally, that we as a team, will use our status as public figures to bring more exposure to the issue of sexual harassment and violence against women. We will have more details on our plan for that in later time.
Therefore, we would like to announce that we are ending our boycott and will immediately begin preparations for playing in the Holiday Bowl. As a team, we understand that what has occurred has happened these past few days, and playing football for the University of Minnesota, is much larger than us. So many people before us have given so much here, this football team, so many coaches, staff, administrators, professors, alumni, fans, and our community have invested heavily in the success of our program. We will not, and we recognize that we must not, let those people down.
We ask that you now, the members of the media, our fans, and the general public hold all of us accountable for ensuring that our teammates are treated fairly, along with any and all victims of sexual assault. We also ask that the public dialogue related to the apparent lack of due process in a university system and evaluated.
As football players, we know that we represent this University and this state, and that we are held to a higher standard. We want to express our deepest gratitude to our coaching staff, so many others for supporting during this difficult time, and we hope that our fans and our community understand why we took the actions we did.
Our thoughts and prayers are out for the well being of the woman involved in the original incident, and for our 10 teammates to ensure that they are treated fairly. We look forward to representing the University of Minnesota and the state of Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl in a way that makes all of you proud.
Read Kaler and Coyle's responses to the media below
Editor's Note: Bracketed segments indicate a question asked.
Kaler: I'll be very brief. I am very pleased that the football team has realized the opportunity to represent the University of Minnesota. They’ve come out strongly in support of the victims of sexual violence and I have promised a very fair hearing to the students involved and charged and I intend to have that be true. We will judge them very fairly and again, I’m grateful that the student-athletes have decided to end the boycott and represent the University of Minnesota.
Coyle: I obviously agree with President Kaler and I’m thankful for our football team for coming to this resolution. I’m excited that we have an opportunity to play in the Holiday Bowl against Washington State.
[Can you guys give any details of the discussion last night?]
Kaler:We had a very frank and candid discussion. I listened to their concerns. I think I was able to explain our point of view around the actions that we took. It was a very frank and candid conversation and I’m glad it led to this resolution.
[What kind of frank and candid conversation was it if you didn't go into details? That's different.]
Kaler: Well, one can be frank and candid without going into the details of an individual student’s situation. That’s what we talked about.
[Is there any stipulations (the Holiday Bowl committee) put out? Now that the players have agreed, does that guarantee you'll be there for the 27th?]
Kaler: We plan to play in the Holiday Bowl on the 27th, absolutely. No stipulations. No strings attached.
[Have any of the EOAA hearings been moved up in anticipation between now and the bowl?]
[No change in timeline?]
[Do you guys feel you underestimated blowback from the team by not getting ahead of this?]
Kaler: We made a values-based decision. The athletic director made a decision. I supported that decision based on our values and what we think is right and that’s what we did. Are there consequences of decisions that sometimes make people unhappy? Yeah, that happens.
[Did Claeys make the decision with you to suspend the players?]
Kaler: Let me let Mark take that question.
Coyle: I made the decision, the value-based decision, in consultation with coach Claeys. This is an educational moment. The great thing about college campuses is you can have different opinions and can express those opinions, but you have to be respectful during that process. And again, this was a learning experience for all of us and a good outcome for all of us.
[What was Tracy Claeys' role in this ongoing discussion with the team in recent hours?]
Coyle: Obviously, coach Claeys is the coach of this program and has been involved in those conversations.
[What was the hearing process or appeal process for players during the EOAA investigation with the OSCAI?]
Kaler: So, the way this process works has actually been pretty well described in the press. The EOAA makes an investigation, interviews the people involved and makes findings. Those findings have been made available to the people responsible for the programs and at that point in time the athletic director and I made the decision about suspending players and participating in football. Those players were not expelled. They aren’t suspended from the University. They have lost the privilege to represent the Gophers football team athletically. Once the EOAA findings are done, they are sent to the office for student conduct who recommends consequences for those actions and those are then also forwarded to the responsible administrators at the University. There is then the possibility for an appeal hearing. The outcome of that appeal hearing can ultimately be appealed again to the provost. So there is a process for that.
[And that's in January? That hearing?]
Kaler: It is not possible for us to schedule that hearing next week, which is finals week, so it will likely be in January.
[President, how did you balance the need to respond strongly to the allegations that were made with the players not understanding or being upset with a lack of communication, or things of that nature?]
Kaler: Well, communication is always a challenge, and it’s important for us to be clear about the process and about the decision line, and part of our meeting last night was our communicating that decision, and as clear as we try to be, there’s always room to try to communicate more clearly and I think the players now understand that process more fully. It is an education institution.
[Mark and President Kaler, if you could address this, several members of the coaching staff voiced support for the players during this instance. Players were standing in opposition of the administration, can either of you address how that might impact their future?]
Kaler: Let me go first and then we’ll wrap this up. Coaches are in a challenging position. They need to support their players. They need to motivate their players. At the same time, they need to be responsible for their actions, and there are times in which those two demands put coaches in very difficult positions and I think some of our coaches around this issue were in that very difficult position and we’ll talk about that with them and try to improve both their understanding and our understanding.
[Can you all speak to any concerns about perception of Gophers football, since this has become a national story, and the reputation of Gopher athletes?]
Kaler: I think the statement by the students today around support for victims of sexual assault is important. I will continue to amplify the fact that the football team action was in support of their teammates, it was not in support of sexual violence. The players are clear about their involvement in preventing sexual violence. Their values are in support of the victims of sexual violence. Here they were in a situation where they were supporting teammates and I think the local and national media translated that into support of sexual violence and their intent was to support their teammates.