In boycott over U of M suspensions, the issue isn’t football

With the legal cone of silence being lowered at the University of Minnesota, we don’t know what led to the suspension of 10 players on the football team following an alleged sexual assault at an off-campus apartment in September.

That won’t stop anybody.

A woman claimed in the fall that the assault took place after a night of drinking and partying following a football team win. She claimed a sexual encounter wasn’t consensual.

Authorities declined to press charges, however. Why? We don’t really know that, either.

We do know, however, that the university’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office filed an 82-page report recommending five players be expelled from school, four suspended for a year and one placed on probation, an attorney for the players said.

That usually doesn’t happen because everyone was studying for finals. So it’s safe to say something happened.

Which brings us to the other players who have made a stand for team solidarity or thrown a temper tantrum, depending on which side you tend to favor in matters such as this.

The players have boycotted practice and are threatening to sit out the team’s bowl game, apparently a move to try to pressure school officials to ignore whatever was in that 82-page report.

There can be only one reasonable reaction: Go ahead.

Colin Kaepernick has the right to kneel during the national anthem. Black Lives Matter has the right to protest the killing of African Americans by police. Football players can take a walk over what they feel is unfair treatment of their mates.

So, make your stand if that’s what you want to do, kids.

This won’t be pretty. The sports bros will pollute the public airwaves. There are already charges of racism. We will read and hear the very worst of us in the next few days.

I don’t know what happened at the University of Minnesota, but here’s what I do know: Nearly three years ago, I was at a mandatory meeting of all Gopher athletes at the university. They were required to be there; I wasn’t supposed to be, but I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be; nobody told me until after the session.

I was researching a post on a local actress who plays in a troupe that puts on short plays about date rape, racism, substance abuse, and other issues on campus to try to raise awareness of these issues.

Not being a follower of college sports, I couldn’t tell you what athlete who spoke was a star and who was an end-of-the-bencher and it didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t there to cover them. The athletes appeared to sit with their teammates. Some groups sat quietly; others did not.

I couldn’t ignore what I saw: a significant group of athletes who had no clue what date rape is. And a quieter group that did.

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

“She was asking for it,” an audience member said. “Being all sexy and stuff.”

“Don’t act like a victim,” said another. “You’re all bull****,” a woman in the audience said to Nicole.

Many of the men in the audience — and more than a few women — hooted with approval. Other women rolled their eyes and clearly were struggling with anger toward their classmates. Some struggled to make the obvious point: “No” means no.

The reaction seemed to stun the sponsors of the event.

“There are (sexual abuse) survivors in the audience,” a student leader, wearing a “Got Consent?” T-shirt reminded the crowd.

“One in four people on college campuses is sexually assaulted,” Toussaint Morrison, a Minneapolis actor and hip hop artist who moderated the discussion afterward, told the audience.

“Do you think this is funny? One in seven is raped, and they’re usually freshman,” he said.

“That,” he said as he pointed to a trembling Nicole, “is rape.”

I’d never seen anything quite like it. And I never cared about another contest played by a University of Minnesota sports team.

Many of those athletes are probably gone now, but some may still be around.

Whether the culture that was on display that night still permeates college sports on the campus is something we may hear about over the next few days if people can recognize that the issue that’s worth talking about isn’t a football game that doesn’t really matter, or boycotting players who don’t have any more information than the rest of us.