Thursday, January 05, 2017

Catching up: Minnesota football attempts boycott

Several significant events occurred in the past few weeks as we were wrapping up semesters, traveling, celebrating good news and times, and reflecting on what 2017 will bring and how we will respond.We will be catching up on these. Here is installment one about the Minnesota football boycott.

Minnesota football team protests Title IX sanctions
Part I: The members of the University of Minnesota football team banded together and said they would not participate in any football-related activities--including their scheduled December 27 bowl game--in protest of sanctions handed down by school officials against ten team members involved in sexual assault and harassment of a female student. They demanded the president and athletic director  reverse the suspension of their teammates.

In what was supposed to resemble activism, the players presented a united front, had a press conference, and told the media that the Title IX infractions were unfairly meted out, that there was violation of due process and constitutional rights. The action is supported by head coach, Tracy Claeys, who tweeted (2017--the year when people become more self-aware about Twitter??) that he has  "never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights [and] support their effort to make a better world!" He also invoked the concept of due process.

There was a flurry of opinion pieces (and opinion pieces masquerading as fact) about Title IX investigations run amok.

Part II: The players thought that the cultural capital of football and its corresponding economic capital (bowl games = $$) would prevail. Not in this cultural climate--and not with the evidence against the ten players, including four who had been suspended by the coach himself for team violations after the incident was reported in September.

Players hold another press conference and say they will indeed play the bowl game and resume other activities. The change was attributed to the boycotting players actually reading the 80+ page report of the incident; a report compiled by the school as it investigated the incident as per its legal obligations. The reading of the document was part of a meeting with the university president. I imagine that the power of football was brought up in that conversation as well. The power bestowed on intercollegiate football players and the ability of universities to take that power away. (There were many troubling perceptions of the power of football within this whole event.)

The second press conference reflected some of these power paradigms Spokesperson for the boycott said "we understand that what has occurred these past few days and playing football for the University of Minnesota is larger than just us."

Sadly there was no concern for the victim. No support for the role of Title IX and its enforcers in keeping students safe. No clarification about Title IX investigations and how they differ from the criminal process. In short, it does not seem like anyone learned anything except how to (and how not to) wield the power of football.

Part III: Minnesota wins the bowl game. A Forbes writer attributes the underdog win to the "solidarity" that was established during the boycott and calls the boycott a "silent victory." Solidarity in the name of misogyny is not very silent--especially in football.

The school announces this week that Claeys has been fired. The athletics director (in his first year) said that there were issues in the program around recruiting and ticket sales but admitted that the coach's comments during the boycott did not help his cause. There has been pushback against the firing.