Sunday, January 7, 2018

"With boosters and alumni demanding his firing, Pitino had his players write personal letters to the university’s president, Eric Kaler, apologizing for the team’s behavior and its performance. 'Stick with us,' one wrote. 'We won’t let you down.'”

Yes, the old "heartfelt letter" gambit. Works like a charm. (And if you ask me, it works way better than threatening to boycott a bowl game.)  If I remember correctly, that's also the gambit that helped Gopher wrestling coach J. Robinson avoid criminal charges in the Xanax sales scandal eighteen months ago. If only former Gophers guard Daquein McNeil had possessed the foresight to write a heartfelt letter after beating and strangling his girlfriend in 2015, maybe he could have avoided those murder charges last July.

It seems like only yesterday that I was at a panel discussion at the Humphrey Institute. The discussion was about the gang rape, of course. But that ugly episode had come on the heels of many others. Let's call the roll: Norwood TeagueMike Ellis, Daquein McNeil, Meg and Jim Stephenson, and of course, the notorious basketball sex tape. The panel discussion took place only two months after the Star Tribune had reported the rape of Abby Honold by a University of Minnesota student and the failure of the university to hold the rapist accountable. My question to the panel went something like this: "Doesn't the U have a systemic problem?" To which the reply came back, "No, of course not. What on earth would make you think something like that?"

After all, the basketball players had written letters. "These are genuine, heartfelt letters," President Kaler told the New York Times. "They weren’t read from a script. Each one is different. That’s a good sign.” Football coach Tracy Claeys had been fired. And hadn't basketball coach Rich Pitino promised to turn his program around?  No more "off-court turmoil" for the basketball team, no sir. "I’ve got to do something to teach these guys and improve the image of our program,” Pitino told Strib reporter Chip Scoggins, who reported the miraculous turnaround with a ringing endorsement. "(Pitino's) brainchild should be copied by every Gophers team. He created a program he calls Gopher PRIDE, which is a series of self-improvement initiatives that he cataloged in a manual."

A year later, now that Gopher center Reggie Lynch has been suspended for sexual assault, we've learned what was really going on. In May of 2016 Lynch had been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and released when prosecutors declined to press charges. Rape survivor Abby Honold went to athletic director Mark Coyle and told him "she knew of 'multiple other victims' of sexual misconduct involving Lynch." As Honold wrote on Twitter last week: "Gopher athletics knew about Reggie Lynch & his behavior from the beginning. I literally sat them down last year & brought it to their attention even further. They know there are multiple victims. They knew about this active report. They still did nothing."

Well, it depends on how you define "nothing." University officials apparently decided that their real problem wasn't sexual assault and harassment; it was public relations. So in May, when the press reported that assistant athletic director Randy Handel had sexually harassed another employee, university officials knew immediately what they had to do: Find out who leaked the story to the press. That leak investigation cost the taxpayers of Minnesota $74,000 and came up with nothing.

And so, once again, we start the New Year with a sexual assault scandal at the University of Minnesota. #MeToo, you say? Come on. Not here. We've got heartfelt letters and Gopher PRIDE.

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