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Sexual Assault Case Weighs On University Of Minnesota Football Team


Now a different look at sports from the moment it leaves the field and how it influences our culture. This week...


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: A controversy over the University of Minnesota football team.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: The players for the Minnesota football team may boycott their bowl game.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: The University of Minnesota has fired Gopher football Coach Tracy Claeys following a sexual assault investigation into some of his players.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This week, we are taking a look at a sexual assault case in Minnesota that's been weighing on the university football program there. To talk more about the complexity of cases like these, we're joined by Washington Post sportswriter Sally Jenkins.

Thanks so much for joining us.

SALLY JENKINS: My pleasure.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: First, let's start. Talk us through what happened with the Gophers.

JENKINS: So what happened with the Gophers was there was a party, and it resulted in an allegation of a gang rape. The local prosecutor declined to prosecute because the evidence wasn't strong enough to get a conviction. However, the university went on and suspended about 10 players related to the incident under a student code of conduct hearing.

And the rest of the football team then protested this and threatened to boycott their post-season bowl because they felt it was unfair that a non-prosecution over a matter where criminal behavior couldn't be proved resulted in suspensions anyway. They later thought better of that and stood down on their threat of a boycott.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You wrote about this case. You described the frustrating, quote, "pendulum swings between inaction and false accusation." And, you know, I guess that's really the tension at the heart of so many sexual assault cases, at least for people looking in from the outside.

JENKINS: Well, so, you know, these cases are really difficult because, you know, on the one hand, we have Duke where you have false accusations. You have really, really deeply flawed investigations. You have men whose reputations are unfairly, you know, impugned or even destroyed. And on the other hand, you have situations at - say, you know, Baylor where you have a raft of sexual assaults where they really weren't investigated properly at all. The administration appears to have covered them up or to have withheld even reporting these alleged incidents to police.

And so, you know, you have these extremes - on the one hand, false accusations and over-investigation; and on the other hand, really, really significant allegations with no proper investigation at all. You know, at Florida State, we'll never know what happened with Jameis Winston because - the quarterback of that team when he was in college, because the university so interfered with the investigation that the police couldn't do a proper police investigation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You aim a lot of criticism, though, at the players themselves and for their role in this. What do you think the problem was with what they did?

JENKINS: So the problem that I have with the Minnesota football players was that they finally discovered their own power and leverage and voices on a university campus, but they applied it to a case that is really so objectionable. There was no sign in their statements that women exist on that campus - no sign of respect for women, no sign that their teammates may have behaved in a way that, while not criminal, may have been completely objectionable. You know, I felt the campus authorities had every right to go on and suspend a number of players over this even though it may not have been, you know, risen to criminal proof.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Obviously, though, when something like this happens, sports has such a central place in our culture - how do you think it plays into the broader conversation on sexual assault?

JENKINS: So what I would like to see is - I would like to see much more activism by men - male football players, male athletic figures - because, you know, we have got to protect each other. And the best way to do that, I think, is to recruit some of these role models on campus. I mean, football players could become the standard for good behavior.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sally Jenkins is sportswriter and columnist for The Washington Post.

Thanks so much for being with us.

JENKINS: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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