January 4 2017
Jillian Kay Melchior
The University of Minnesota has fired its football coach after he publicly backed some of his players who were suspended by the school over rape allegations that the police investigated and decided not to pursue.
In December, the coach,Tracy Claeys, supported players who briefly staged a walk-out after 10 of their teammates were suspended over an alleged sexual assault. The sexual encounter took place in September, and local authorities declined to prosecute, citing insufficient evidence after an investigation. The university conducted its own Title IX investigation, relying on the “preponderance of evidence” standard to justify the suspensions of 10 members of the Gophers.
Amid the boycott, Claeys tweeted that he had “never been more proud of our kids.” The coach and his team said the university’s disciplinary action potentially violated the football players’ due process rights. “The boycott was about due process, period,” Claeys later told local media.
Claeys also said at the time that he expected a backlash; he took the stand despite the risk of being fired, he said. A MoveOn.org petition calling for Claeys’ termination has garnered nearly 3,500 signatures, putting added pressure on the university to act.
In a statement, UMinn’s athletic director, Mark Coyle, called the decision difficult. Coyle said Claeys initially told him he “understood that decision to bench student athletes.”
“Coach Claeys’ tweet later that week was not helpful,” Coyle said in his statement Tuesday. “I accept that Coach Claeys intended it to support the boycotting players. Understandably others did not see it that way. I hope you will appreciate I cannot say more about the athletic suspensions in this case. I will say, as a general matter, athletic suspension decisions—essentially a decision to bench a player—are different from a prosecutor’s decision to charge someone with a crime. Different standards, different policies.”
Claeys could not immediately be reached for comment. According to the Star Tribune, the 10 suspended athletes have appeals scheduled with the university this month.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.