Urgently needed: Gopher culture purge

Big troubles in Gopherland

Last week’s whirlwind moves by Minnesota AD Mark Coyle, firing Tracy Claeys and hiring P.J. Fleck in a three-day span, kept me from my usual unapologetic advocacy as a Black journalist. This time, however, I am glad I didn’t push for a Black coach.

Coyle said January 3 after firing Claeys that among other things, Gopher football needs a new “culture.” We agree that a culture purge is desperately needed,
especially with the immoral cloud hanging over the program right now. I wouldn’t wish this task on a Black man, even if I believed that he could clean things up there.

We may never know what really happened in the early morning hours after midnight in that player’s apartment bedroom on September 2, 2016. But let’s get beyond the fact that 10 football players — all Black, and all but two of them found guilty violating at least one, if not three, university student conduct rules — were suspended from the team last month as a result.


The Gopher athletic culture, especially football, is cesspool-like


Let’s get past the “due process” argument. The school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) “has a much lower standard of proof” than the outside world’s court of law, wrote The Nation’s Dave Zirin last month. Also, let’s get past this as a racial incident simply because the accused players are Black and the unidentified female accuser might be White.

Rather, this is a right vs. wrong thing, and there are enough wrongs and enough blame to go around.

Let’s also get past those who argue that the victim shouldn’t have been with the players in the first place. Whether she was drunk, half-drunk, or just overwhelmingly willing to participate in late-night hanky-panky, when the woman said no the males should have stopped and let her go home. According to the EOAA report — read pages 4-7 of the 80-page document — the young men clearly didn’t respect her wishes.

Whether they sadly participated in the gang booty call or stood around cheering and snapping phone photos, the players were wrong that night. Why the police and the County didn’t find enough cause to charge them is a Perry Mason question. But if the woman’s recollection was even 50 percent correct, that should have been enough to throw the book at them.

The now former coach, once he learned of the incident, should have permanently booted them off the team. But by letting Coyle do it instead ultimately sealed his fate.

The Gopher athletic culture, especially football, is cesspool-like. It’s the same culture that last year allowed wrestlers to buy and sell drugs on campus, and the coach’s way of disciplining them was to assign them term papers to write.

It’s the same culture that forced a Black female to leave the track team because she felt her claims of harassment and insensitivity by male athletes and a trainer were not taken seriously.

It’s the same culture where a high school recruit used his on-campus recruiting visit like a Vegas weekend, and his football player hosts treated him to an underage sexual healing experience. It’s the same culture that added a young female to the legions of those who have been sexually abused and permanently scarred because some young men don’t know what “no” means.

“Rape culture is not OK on college campuses,” said U of M student James Farnsworth.

Since 1991, when I added U of M football to my college sports beat, I have covered seven coaches — John Gutekunst, Jim Wacker, Glen Mason, Tim Brewster, Jeff Horton, Jerry Kill and Claeys. All but Horton and Claeys I pretty much got along with. But this columnist sees Gopher football on the field as a second-class program.

They haven’t won a Big Ten title since 1967. They haven’t been national champs since 1960. They haven’t won 10 games since 2003, and that was the first time Minnesota achieved double-digit wins since 1905. They ballyhoo made-for-cable bowl games and victories as if they were classic epics.

They can’t beat such Big Ten powers as Michigan (.262 winning percentage), Ohio State (.137) and Michigan State (.370). They can’t attract “A” players from such prep football hotbeds as Texas and Florida in order to compete with these powers.

It’s not big-time football but rather a starter program, like training wheels for a coach to cut his head coaching teeth on before going off to better places. Fleck formerly coached at Western Michigan, a mid-major in a mid-major Mid-American Conference. And Coyle now will pay Claeys a half-million dollars and $4.5 million to his assistants — that’s $5 million in unemployment coaches’ benefits.


In future columns we will offer our suggestions for real culture change at Gopherland.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.