In U of M football scandal, a defense of millennials

Among the more absurd observations in the wake of last week’s “boycott” by the student-athletes of the University of Minnesota football team, was this in Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse’s column on Saturday.

The average hard-core Gophers fan is 65, a lifelong Minnesotan, Lutheran, and has been wearing the same maroon sweater to games for two decades. I’m a little older, a lifelong Minnesotan, a casual Catholic and make sure not to wear my 10-year-old maroon sweater if attending a Gophers game.

I’m confident that the average Gophers fan and I do have this common: not many sexual encounters with four friends and one woman.

So most of us are shocked when we hear that detail and then exclaim: “How can the rest of the players possibly support these louts as teammates? Throw them all out of school. Fire Claeys. Fire the athletic director … what’s his name? Fire Eric Kaler, the university president.”

I’m not endorsing anything. I’m just suggesting the shock level for millennials is much lower when hearing of such an encounter than it is for us baby boomers in our maroon sweaters.

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Reusse picked a good day to run his column: Saturday, when few people pay attention to what’s in the newspaper.

What other explanation could there be that it wasn’t until today that someone stood up for millennials on the question of sexual assault?

In today’s Letters to the Editor, someone finally did.

Jim Souhan lists “Too many failures to count in U’s latest sports scandal” (Dec. 18), but he missed one big one, by the Star Tribune, and in particular his Sports-section colleague Patrick Reusse. In his gasp-inducing Saturday column (“Clash of social forces — or a feud — roils U waters”), Reusse clearly suggested that while baby boomers like him might assume five men having sex with one inebriated woman to be nonconsensual, “the shock level for millennials is much lower when hearing of such an encounter.” Seriously? What looks like the gang rape of a woman unable to give consent to us old folks is just a normal good time to these kids today?

As a professor at the U, I deal with today’s students all the time, and I have never seen a generation more thoughtful and aware of the ethical issues involved with gender and sexuality. If Reusse ran his theory by a typical undergraduate student at the U, he would likely be told that he should spend less time feeding his fantasies on his computer and more time talking to actual young women about what sort of treatment they expect from their sexual partners.

Jason McGrath, Minneapolis

Meanwhile, the editorial board at the paper today calls out Board of Regents chairman Dean Johnson for his own tone-deaf comments. Johnson said football coach Tracy Claeys had to defend his players’ ill-informed actions so that they would play hard for him in the upcoming bowl game.

Frankly, Regent Johnson, most Minnesotans could not care less if the Gophers beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl; they simply want the off-the-field disgraces to stop and for their world-class university to receive national news coverage for its research breakthroughs, not scandal after scandal in its men’s sports programs. In any case, the players should know that, in a dispute, the most visible action is not necessarily the most courageous.

As leader of the Board of Regents, Johnson should be defending the university’s reputation and standards, not making excuses for the head football coach or intimating that something is lacking in the university’s disciplinary procedures.

Johnson and his fellow regents — who are selected by the Legislature to govern the university and safeguard its enormous resources for the benefit of all Minnesotans — are expected to “enhance the public image” of the U, and the student-athlete code of conduct rightly states that athletics are “a window to the university.”

Once again that window is broken and in need of repair. In the weeks ahead, Minnesotans will learn if Johnson, his fellow regents and university administrators are serious about bringing about needed change.

The paper’s op-ed page today is nearly entirely about the latest in the long line of scandals in the university’s athletic department.

Attorney Frank LoMonte writes that privacy laws have made “matters even worse.” It took the leak of private documents to KSTP to force the players to confront the realities of the actions of the teammates they were defending.

Congress drafted FERPA in 1974 with one narrow purpose in mind: To keep K-12 schools from disclosing psychological evaluations and similar documents to law enforcement before parents had the opportunity to inspect and correct them for misleading information. But thanks to aggressive lawyering by secretive colleges — and “home cooking” from deferential state-court judges — the statute has been judicially expanded beyond all rational boundaries. One Ohio court even classified e-mails between a football coach and a booster suspected of offering cars to recruits as “education records.”

Image-fixated colleges have turned the privacy shield of FERPA into a sword of secrecy — in one extreme recent case, even suing their own students. University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto is fighting the campus newspaper to block the release of documents detailing how the university dawdled in allowing an accused serial predator to keep his professorship and then quietly resign — documents that the university is asking a judge to classify as “student education records.”

In a separate commentary, Keya Ganguly, a professor of cultural studies and comparative literature at the university, suggests the immediate answer to the woes is to shut the football program down.

In reality, such an outcome is not likely here. The latest bulletins indicate that Wolitarsky and his brethren have recognized the side on which their bread is buttered, which is to say, they appear to have been informed about who pays the bills for their program. The good news for those appalled by this latest incident is that, at least for now, the U will not lift the suspensions; for their part, the players have assented to play in the bowl game.

But let’s not let them off the hook so easily; let’s give them what they’d asked for — and more — by eliminating the men’s football program entirely. It’s a losing proposition, anyway, and with such a move, the University of Minnesota might stand out in the Big Ten conference for its bold stance on collegiate athletics.

No one at the U should support the bad sexual behavior of athletes simply because it has not descended to an actual crime. The issue is about what is appropriate conduct and behavior for all students. If our student-athletes are not learning this minimal lesson, why stop at suspensions?