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How to Make Minnesota Football “Great Again”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Minnesota chapter.

Last night, the University of Minnesota’s football team gathered to issue a statment condemning the recent suspension of ten players, which came at the recommendation of the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. The statement, lead by Drew Wolitarsky, a University of Minnesota Senior, expressed the team’s frustration that their “brothers” were denied “due process” and “constitutional rights,” by the University, in a pending investivation following allegations of sexual assault. In response, the football team has announced a boycott of all football related activities, including the Holiday Bowl, until the suspension is lifted. Wolitarsky also called for a close-door meeting with Board of Regents members to discuss how they can, “make the program great again.” Well, here are a few good places to start with that: 

“Demand that these leaders are held accountable for their actions.” 

This is a direct quote from last night’s statement, in which the team called for an apology from university leadership, President Eric Kaler and Gopher Athletic Director, Mark Coyle. In an effort to make their program better, the football team might consider holding their own leaders accountable for their actions. This accountability should stand regardless of whatever “big game” they may have. This includes not allowing players who violate the Student Conduct Code to practice, play, or participate in additional team activites and should under no case continue to be supported by “athletic scholarships.” 

“Respect their rights.”

Oh, where to even start with this one. Last night, the Gopher’s Head Football Coach, Tracy Claeys, tweeted, “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”. The irony of this is painful. If only his players were respectful of the rights of others. I can imagine if these football players had respect for the rights of victim-survivors, their approach to this situation would be much different. If the Gophers are so desperate to “make the program great again,” they might consider respecting people who don’t take to the field with them. Just because we aren’t your “brothers” doesn’t mean we aren’t human beings.

“Make a better world!”

In his aforementioned tweet, Claeys called his players actions an “effort to make a better world.” Make a better world? Let’s start with making a better campus community, since the team clearly doesn’t even have that down yet. The privilege of most athletes at the University of Minnesota is paramount compared to that of many students, faculty, and even University leaders. In an effort to make their program great again, Gopher football players could use their privilege, voice, and visibility to speak out on behalf of the oppressed, rather than further oppressing them. A great example would be using their platform to support victim-survivors and condemn perpetrators of sexual violence – teammates or not – instead of defending them. 

“He has the power to reverse this, and he won’t.”

Last night, Wolitarsky stated that University Athletic Director Coyle, responsible for the suspensions, “has the power to reverse this, and won’t.” I guess the football team and the Athletic Director have at least one thing in common then. While the football team never will have the power to undo the acts of sexual violence against the victim, or unsay what they so boldy said last night, many still have the power to reverse their stance. Perhaps out of naivety, or perhaps out of hope, I would like believe that not every player on that team supports the message that their “brothers” are sending. These players can take a stand by calling out their teammates, coaches, and our criminal justice system that does such blatant injustice to victim-survivors.

“Preserve the integrity of our program.”

As the statement neared its end, Wolitarsky explained how difficult this decision was for the team, and how critical it was to “preserve the integrity” of their program. Once again, the self-interest is sickening. Imagine if these players only knew about the world that exists outside of their dear program. Instead of focusing on the preservation of their program, the players could join the vast majority of us who are more focused on preserving the integrity of our university. If Gopher football wants to make their program great again, they can start by preserving the integrity of the very institution that birthed them. 

It’s painfully clear that the University of Minnesota Football team is more than capable of “making their program great again,” they just don’t want to unless it’s on their own terms. The situation, as it unfolds, is reflective of countless institutional and societal flaws: the glorification and commercialization of athletics, the power college athletes exercise within educational institutions, the disproportional privilege and visibility awarded by popularity, and the degredation and invalidation of survivors of sexual assault – just to name a few. Until Minnesota football players are willing to recognize the ways in which their actions are perpetuating oppression, toxic masculinity, and rape culture and move to correct this behavior, the Gopher Football Program will remain anything but “great.” 

Lauren is the Her Campus Correspondent at the University of Minnesota where she is currently studying Strategic Communications with and emphasis in Public Relations. Lauren also works for a national nonprofit organization called Miss Amazing that focuses on empowering women with disabilities by hosting programs offering the opportunity to develop life long skills, build confidence, express themselves, and create meaningful relationships. In addition to her work with Her Campus and Miss Amazing, Lauren also works as the Public Relations and Branding Coordinator at Metropolitan Salons and Spas and as an assistant at a law firm in downtown Minneapolis. When she isn't busy working, Lauren enjoys reading, shopping, spending time with her family and friends, and of course watching New Girl. Lauren is an enthusiast for many things: coffee, Kate Spade, office supplies, home décor, women's empowerment, and pugs, just to name a few. Lauren's favorite quote (right now) is, "Give me some wifi, a pair of heels, some coffee and watch me make the world go round." HCXO!