ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — University of Minnesota athletic officials were notified this summer about a “concerning pattern” of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against Gopher football players over the past year, according to an email obtained through an open records request.
Players were accused of sexual assault on two occasions, and the school’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office also handled two separate allegations of sexual harassment involving groups of football players, according to the July 16 email sent by director Kim Hewitt. The school also fielded concerns about a group of players retaliating, but provided no other details.
The school did not investigate either sexual violence allegation or one of the harassment allegations because the reporting students didn’t want to proceed with an investigation, Hewitt wrote in the email. One of the players involved in a sexual harassment complaint was found to have violated harassment policies, and the school found some “concerning behavior” on the part of football players after investigating the retaliation accusation. No one on the team’s more than 100-man roster has been publicly suspended or otherwise disciplined this season.
The university declined to identify the players allegedly involved in the incidents, citing a need to protect the identity of the students who reported the events.
Interim athletics director Beth Goetz said each complaint was “fully investigated to the extent that they could be.”
“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 a prepared statement. “Coach (Jerry) Kill has a strong track record of dealing with student-athlete issues as soon as they arise.”
Kill told the Star-Tribune he was aware of one allegation involving a current player that was referred to administrators and to police.
“I’ve taken care of the report that we received on a young man. We turned it into the administration and it was handled by the administration,” he told the newspaper.
“When something happens, we take care of it,” Kill said. “And if it’s a kid that’s guilty, he’s taken care of.” The football team has a record of 4 wins and 2 losses so far this season.
It was unclear whether any of the other incidents were handled by local police, or whether any individual players were accused on multiple occasions.
The email was sent to athletic director Norwood Teague, Goetz and others about three weeks before Teague’s abrupt resignation that plunged the athletic department into turmoil. The school later divulged that Teague had sexually harassed two high-level school employees at a university function. After Teague’s departure, one of his deputies, Mike Ellis, was forced to take a leave of absence after the school received five anonymous complaints about his conduct.
Neither Teague nor Ellis has responded to repeated requests for comment. Ellis is still on leave.
The university released the emails relating to the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office to The Associated Press and other media outlets on Wednesday.
“The notable number of … concerns we have received involving football players, and the fact that three of the complaints involved groups of football players, demonstrates a concerning pattern of football player conduct that we believe requires responsive action,” Hewitt wrote after laying out the general accusations against players. “I would suggest that we schedule a meeting to talk about a strategy for addressing these issues.”
Teague agreed to set up a meeting, looping in football program administrator Dan O’Brien. In her statement, Goetz said administrators discussed whether to boost the school’s annual training for student-athletes on sexual assault. The school is still weighing that possibility, she said.
Hewitt did not respond to several emails and phone calls requesting comment. Asked by the Star-Tribune if concerns remained about the football team, Hewitt responded: “I would say yes.”
Any misconduct by Gopher football players could be included in an ongoing investigation of the athletics department launched after Teague’s Aug. 7 resignation.
“It was our intent all along that it cover the entire waterfront of the culture and any inappropriate behavior in the department of athletics for administrators, coaches and athletes,” said Dean Johnson, chairman of the school’s governing board. “Nothing is going to be swept under the rug. Those that are found guilty are going to be dealt with a fair and judicious way — if anyone is.”
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