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Minnesota Football Sexual Assault, Harrassment, Retaliation Allegations - What Do We Know?

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Let's talk about the big news from yesterday.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're probably aware of this:

strib

If you haven't yet, I'm going to ask you to read the full STrib article before continuing. Please read it carefully, don't skim it, and get all the way through it. I'm going to quote from it (and other TC media sources), but understanding the full context of the STrib piece is going to be important since it's the article people are most focused on.

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Ok. Let's do this.

What do we know right now?

- During the 2014-2015 academic year multiple Minnesota football players who have not been identified to the media were accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and retaliation. The accusations span multiple alleged incidents and the number of players accused in each alleged incident varied. Specifically the reports included

...two reports of sexual assault "committed by individual players," two reports of sexual harassment involving "groups of football players" and a report of retaliation of involving "a group of football players."

- The allegations were reported to the University's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA).

- The EOAA investigated two of the claims (one of harassment the other of retaliation). Per the director of the EOAA, Kimberly Hewitt, they confirmed one complaint of sexual harassment:

One of the complaints involving football players was investigated by the university, Hewitt wrote in the e-mail. That investigation "determined that one player had violated the sexual harassment policy."

- The retaliation claim did not determine a violation but the EOAA had concerns based on their investigation:

The retaliation complaint "found concerning behavior by football players, but there was no evidence to substantiate that the players had violated university policy," she wrote.

- The other complaints were not investigated because the students who reported the complaints chose not to go forward with the investigations. It is not expressly called out in the STrib story, but this can reasonably be assumed to mean that the sexual assault allegations were not investigated because of this.

- While the EOAA did not report any complaints to the police, Kimberly Hewitt the EOAA director still had concerns that were communicated to Coach Kill, Norwood Teague, and others:

In her July e-mail, Hewitt wrote that the number of complaints "demonstrates a concerning pattern of football player conduct that we believe requires responsive action."

- The U did not report the allegations to the police in those instances. Per Hewitt, the U (EOAA or otherwise) is not required to do so unless certain conditions are met.

She said the U follows federal guidelines on reporting sexual assaults. It’s generally up to the student whether to file a police report. Exceptions may be made with repeat offenders or in cases of imminent threats, she said.

"Title IX requires the school to take reasonable steps to prevent future sexual [violence] and harassment after receiving a complaint, even when the complaining student chooses not to pursue an investigation," Hewitt noted in her e-mail.

- It is not expressly called out in the STrib story, but this can reasonably be assumed to mean that the University believed they had taken all reasonable steps required under Title IX.

- This was supported by the statement of interim athletics director Beth Goetz:

Goetz said in a statement Thursday that Hewitt "proactively contacted the athletics department to initiate discussions on whether reports of sexual assault and harassment constituted a broader pattern. All of these reports were fully investigated to the extent that they could be and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) did not substantiate any sexual assault allegations. The EOAA Office substantiated one allegation of sexual harassment.

- Coach Kill was aware of two of the complaints.

- Per the PiPress, interim AD Beth Goetz also communicated the following:

Goetz also said that the athletics department holds mandatory training for all athletes on sexual assaults each year.

"One report of sexual assault or harassment is one too many and we took prompt, responsive action to investigate when notified of these reports," Goetz said in the statement. "Coach (Jerry) Kill has a strong track record of dealing with student-athlete issues as soon as they arise."

What does this mean?

Based on what we know today the U appears to have properly handled the investigations. I won't comment on whether the U should have forwarded any of the sexual assault complaints to the police because I'm not a Title IX expert. Thus far I've seen no complaints about this decision in the media.

My personal interpretation of this is that the U did what was required of them. There does not appear to be any reason to suspect a cover up. The U's decision to not name anyone seems appropriate. Unless there is more to the story that has gone unreported, I would guess this is done as a legal matter right now. Various media outlets are making a lot from Kimberly Hewitt's email statement about a concerning pattern, but that's not a definitive statement of anything. It's the EOAA director doing what I'd want the EOAA director to do; escalating multiple complaints to the right leaders and saying "there is no proof of an issue, I'm not saying we have an issue, but there are enough complaints that we as responsible leaders should talk about how we can make sure there isn't an issue/prevent any issues from arising." In other words, it was good proactive escalation.

Does this mean nothing happened in the reports that were not investigated?

It's important to understand that the decision of the complainants to not pursue an investigation does not mean nothing happened. On the flip side of the coin, it also doesn't mean that anything did happen. It means exactly what it says, that the person who initiated the complaint decided against participating in an investigation. We can only work with the facts we have. Anything else is just speculation at this point.

What comes next?

Legally? Nothing further based on what we know. Internal team discipline? Nothing further based on what we know. Media follow-ups? We'll have to see. Again, based on what we know thus far there doesn't appear to be much in the way of non-conspiracy minded questions to ask. The U took complaints, investigated the complaints they could, did so fully to the point that one player was found to have violated the U's sexual harassment policy, and the EOAA director did the right thing by escalating her concerns further with the athletics department and coaching staff.

What are my concerns for the U?

In terms of the U's handling? None, really. I don't want to assume the U has done everything by the book since I'm not an expert and because under-reporting of sexual assault/harassment is an actual problem in the University world. But again, based on what I know today I'm feeling ok about how the U handled things. I'll have some additional thoughts about the media angle, but I'm saving those for a separate post.