Minnesota football team will play in Holiday Bowl

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- The University of Minnesota football team will play in the Holiday Bowl, reversing a threat to boycott the game because of the suspension of 10 players accused of sexual assault.

The players made the announcement at a news conference Saturday after a group of seniors from the team met with the board of regents, university President Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle on Friday night.

The school declined the players' request to reinstate the suspended players. However, the team rescinded its boycott and will play Washington State on Dec. 27 in San Diego.

The players said they made their decision after they were assured by the university the suspended teammates would receive a fair hearing.

"As a team we understand that what has occurred these last few days and playing football for the University of Minnesota is larger than just us," receiver Drew Wolitarsky said.

Said Kaler: "I'm very pleased that the football team has realized the opportunity to represent the university and come out strong in support of the victims of sexual violence. I have promised a fair hearing and I attend to have that be true."

The players said the school promised to "show support for our team and the character of the shown by the great majority of our players" while working to highlight the issue of sexual assault.

No criminal charges were filed against the players for what happened on Sept. 2 after a season-opening win over Oregon State. Four players were initially suspended for three games earlier this season while the police conducted their investigation. They were reinstated after a judge lifted a restraining order.

The school, however, ruled the players violated a school policy adopted last year that defines sexual assault as anything without a "clear and unambiguous" expression of consent.

On Wednesday, the university announced the suspensions of those four players and six additional players. On Thursday, players said they wouldn't practice or play unless their teammates' suspensions were revoked.

University investigators wrote they generally found her account more credible than those of the accused students. The investigators concluded that several students had failed to provide full and truthful information.

Sexual misconduct already has been a sensitive subject for the university and for its athletic department. Former athletic director Norwood Teague resigned in August 2015 amid allegations of sexual harassment. His replacement, Coyle, was brought in with orders to not tolerate such behavior and played a key role in the decision to suspend the players.

University officials have declined to say why the players were suspended or provide any details of the internal investigation, citing student privacy rules. But an attorney for several of the suspended players and the father of one of them confirmed the action was taken in connection with an alleged sexual assault in an apartment near campus.

According to police reports, the woman who made the complaint attended a few parties before ending up in the off-campus apartment of players Carlton Djam and Tamarion Johnson. The reports said she accompanied Djam and a male, whose name was redacted, to Djam's room, where she had sex with both of them at the same time.

After the unidentified male left, she said Tamarion Johnson entered the room and that she had sex with him, too. She said she remembered seeing several people watching.

"She described it as a line of people, like they were waiting for their turn. ... She recalls yelling for them to stop sending people in the room because she couldn't handle it," one of the reports said.

The woman said she recalled at least three other men forcing themselves on her, including players Dior Johnson and Ray Buford Jr. She told police the sexual contact between her and Djam and the unidentified man may have been consensual, but that it was not consensual with the others.

The men all told police their sexual contacts with her were consensual.

The school's policy says consent may be initially given, but can be withdrawn at any time and "sexual activity must stop" at that point or even if there is confusion over consent.

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