“So we watch [Negro and white boys on TV screens] in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1967
After 48 hours of tough talk, the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team decided on Saturday to end its strike/boycott and play in the Holiday Bowl on December 27 against the Washington State Cougars. Strikes on the part of NCAA athletes are incredibly rare. Usually they are rooted in some principle of social justice. This is not one of those times.
The players were demanding the reinstatement of 10 teammates who had been accused of taking part in a gang rape. They folded after two days.
It was a meek surrender for a team that had taken an emphatic stand on a battlefield it had no business fighting upon.
Football isn’t war, and damn the coaches and couch generals who say otherwise. But I couldn’t help think about Dr. King’s words about “brutal solidarity” when seeing the initial press conference of the white and black teammates. The Golden Gopher players thought the school suspensions were unjust because the police reviewed the evidence and declined to make any arrests. The alleged rape had been filmed by one of the players on his phone, and authorities said that the video showed, in the words of an investigator, that the woman who came forward in the immediate aftermath “does not appear to be upset by the sexual activity and does not indicate that she wants it to stop.”
Yet the survivor of this incident says she was inebriated to the point of blacking out, and sexual contact with only two of the players was consensual. The police may not have pressed charges, but the players were found to have violated of the campus’s code of conduct. Sentencing—suspension or expulsion—was not due to happen until after the Holiday Bowl. The school decided independently to make the players sit for the December 27 bowl game, which sparked the team’s boycott.
Tracy Claeys tweeted, “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”
A better world.
I contacted Abeer Syedah, student-body president at the University of Minnesota. She said. “I certainly resonate with the experience of poor communication and transparency when it comes to working with campus officials. So I understand if that is contributing to the players’ frustrations. It is, however, really important to recognize that there is a lot of information about students that legally cannot be shared. And that information is also where much of this speculation lies. With that in mind, even ignoring all the facts and nuance, it needs to be recognized that there is deep symbolism in this act of solidarity the football players are showing with their suspended teammates that, to the many survivors of sexual assault across college campuses, is a harrowing reminder of the power associated with protecting rape culture. To survivors, this feels familiar. To those who thought about speaking up, this silences. We must believe, love, support, center, and be in solidarity with survivors. Especially when the power stratification is against them. Fact of the matter is that a Big 10 University like ours wouldn’t suspend 10 football players during the season without a strong reason. In fact, historically, they would have all the incentive to try not to.”