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Better late than never to stop advocating for sexual assault: Minnesota players end Holiday Bowl boycott

AFTER ALL-night negotiations, one of the most misguided boycotts in sports history ended this morning when University of Minnesota football players decided that advocating for sexual assault isn’t such a good idea after all. As such, the Holiday Bowl with Washington State will go on as planned.

In a statement today, Gophers players said they will begin preparations immediately for the Dec. 27 game in San Diego that features two 8-4 teams.

“After many hours of discussion within our team, and after speaking with President Kaler, it became clear that our original request of having the 10 suspensions overturned was not going to happen,” senior receiver Drew Wolitarsky read in the players’ statement.

The news was an about face from where matters stood late Friday, when the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported the players were entrenched. Increasingly, it seemed, Northern Illinois or another 5-7 team would be summoned on short notice to play the Cougars in San Diego.

What may have turned the tide was an 80-page university report on the sexual assault case at the center of the matter that became public when it was leaked to a Minneapolis television station. Whether 100 percent accurate or even partly accurate, the report chronicled sickening details in the investigation of sexual assault between a woman and 10 Minnesota players and a recruit.

With the report public, an ongoing boycott by the Minnesota players effectively would have stated loud and clear that they coddle sexual predation.

"Let me first state so there is no misperception: sexual harassment and violence against women have no place on this campus, on our team, in our society, and at no time is it ever condoned," Wolitarsky said in the statement. "We recognize that there is a legal threshold and there is a moral threshold and a standard of values set forth by this university. There is only one acceptable way to treat all women and all men, and that is with the utmost of respect at all times ...

“As a team, we understand that what has occurred these past few days, and playing football for the University of Minnesota, is larger than just us ... We now ask that you, 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 is openly discussed 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 and so many others for their support during this difficult time, and we hope that our fans and community understand why we took the actions that we did.”

The statement, which can be read in full at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, continued: “Our thoughts and prayers are 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.”

The Holiday Bowl kicks off at 4 p.m. Pacific time on Dec. 27. WSU is a 9 1/2-point favorite.

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