Minnesota suspends 10 football players ahead of bowl game


The University of Minnesota is set to play Washington State in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27, but it will likely have to make do without 10 players, including several starters. Those Gophers were suspended indefinitely, the school announced Tuesday.

Minnesota did not specify why the players were suspended, citing “privacy restrictions relating to student educational data” in a statement. The father of one of the players told the St. Paul Pioneer Press the suspensions are related to Sept. 2 incident that resulted in a woman’s accusations of sexual assault.

The suspended players are Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, Seth Green, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson, Kobe McCrary, Antonio Shenault, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr. Four of them, Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson, had been suspended as a result of the incident but were reinstated, after missing three games, when local authorities declined to press charges.

Ray Buford Sr., described by the Pioneer Press as a 17-year law enforcement official in Michigan, told the newspaper that the latest suspensions are the result of a probe by the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA). That came after the four players, plus Djam, reached a Nov. 2 settlement with the woman, a member of the Gophers’ game-day operations staff. The settlement lifted a restraining order that had kept the players away from Minnesota’s home field, TCF Bank Stadium.

After the settlement was reached, the woman read from a statement and said, “I’m glad this is over. This has never been about punishing anyone. I just wanted to feel safe. Because of the resolution we came to, now I can.”

“The police have cleared you and found that you were telling the truth,” Buford told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “The prosecutor’s office has cleared you and found you were telling the truth. And the judge has cleared you, and this group [the EOAA] comes in and says they were all wrong.”

At the time of the settlement, an attorney for the university said that it was still conducting its own investigation, with concern for the school’s code of conduct. In her courtroom testimony, Minnesota Public Radio reported, the woman said that she’d been drinking before ending up at Djam’s apartment and having a sexual encounter with him, during which she “felt very overpowered and fearful.” She said “multiple sexual assaults” involving other players occurred after that, while she was “frozen with fear.”

Under questioning from Lee Hutton, an attorney for several of the players, the woman acknowledged that she had told police investigators after the alleged incident that her encounter with Djam was consensual. “I did say that,” the woman testified. “I do not believe it was true.”

The Star Tribune, citing “a person familiar with the case and police documents,” reported that the five players newly linked to the alleged incident (Green, McCrary, Shenault, Williams and Winfield) were in the apartment at the time it was said to have occurred. As of this writing, a Gophers official in charge of athletic communications had not responded to The Post’s request Tuesday night for additional comment.

“I’m ticked, and I plan on exposing the office of EOAA for these unfounded conclusions,” Hutton told the Star Tribune Tuesday. “I was going to wait until after the new year to bring lawsuits on behalf of my clients against [the alleged victim]; we just decided to accelerate the process.”

Hutton said that some of the players he represents could be expelled from the school, while others face year-long suspensions or probation. He added that all of his clients will appeal their suspensions, but it was not clear if that process would play out in time for the bowl game.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post ยท Des Bieler

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