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Attorney For Suspended Gopher Players Says Decision Is 'Unjust & Premature'

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The attorney representing 10 suspended Gopher football players is speaking out.

Attorney Lee Hutton says he has filed suit in federal district court to ask a judge to intervene in what he calls an unconstitutional process. He says university officials continue to talk to his clients without him being present. Hutton says all his clients want is due process.

On Friday, the governor called on University of Minnesota officials to meet with players to "diffuse" the controversy as soon as possible. University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and Athletic Director Mark Coyle released a letter to the players Friday evening in response to the boycott.

The allegation of sexual assault happened after the first football game of the year. The 22 year-old victim claims six players took advantage of her inside an apartment on campus. She told investigators she had been drinking, but remembers "a line of people, like they were waiting for their turn."

She said she told them to stop sending people in the room, because she couldn't handle it.

Antoine Winfield Sr. is the father of one of the suspended players, and a former player on the Minnesota Vikings.

"The allegations that they are accusing him of is disrespectful to him, to me as a parent, my wife, to my family. Period," he said.

Hutton says the results of a police investigation should be enough to prove his clients' innocence.

"The police investigated for a whole month and discovered the woman's testimony was completely false," Hutton said. "They denied charges -- police and prosecutors who are trained to investigate this."

The players were reinstated, only to be suspended again when the victim filed harassment orders that kept the players from entering TCF Bank Stadium.

"All we want is answers," Winfield Sr. said. "We've been making calls -- no calls back. That's why I show up at the facility. I'm going to your front door. I want to know what's going on."

"I go to court. She lasted less than 10 questions and plead the fifth -- which is against self incrimination," Hutton said. "The trial was over, cased dismissed, players are un-suspended." Hutton said.

A Title IX investigation conducted by the university led to the accusation that four additional players were involved. All 10 were suspended indefinitely from the team.

"The individual complainant, who is making these allegations -- she is also a part of the athletic program, so why not suspend all the kids during this time?" Hutton said.

Hutton says the damage done to the reputation of his clients is irreparable, and the university should be doing all it can to fix that.

"If the university stands by this lady's facts so aggressively when the facts are proven not to be true -- and I will prove them not to be true -- who will say 'I'm sorry,' and also put their future and their job on the line for making a mistake?" Hutton said.

Hutton says the team wants the suspension lifted. He says the university should let due process take place and then what happens, happens.

An appeal has been filed on behalf of each players with the university. Hutton says officials have yet to reach out to him or any of the parents of the suspended players.


WCCO Radio's Eric Nelson also interviewed Hutton on Thursday. Hutton said players are mainly taking issue with the lack of respect to due process in Coyle and Kaler's decision and the lack of support from the university.

"If you're in an organization, and the person who is the face of your organization and the school that you have to attend classes, that you live, publicly puts out a statement that says there are facts that have included, that diverge from university values, that's problematic because that means that the president and the athletic director believes what happened on the face of allegations without even a discussion with these young kids," Hutton said. "How can you feel comfortable in a home where individuals don't have your back?"

Hutton also said players were told Coyle had the opportunity to lift the ban and probably will not.

"So there was an opportunity to mediate this issue before it went public and the administration of Mark Coyle declined to do so," he said.

Hutton believes the student athletes who spoke out have already weighed the repercussions of their boycott against the damage already done to the suspended players.

"The repercussions, quite frankly, they're not worried about that," Hutton said. "If the administrators would just simply lift the restrictions, let due process follow and then whatever happens throughout the due process happens, everybody would stand by the decision. But to have a system where you're guilty until proven innocent, that's where the kids have a problem and they won't stand for it anymore."

The attorney also questioned the young woman who initially brought the allegations against the players, as well as the university's investigators.

"This young lady went to court, pled the 5th to a crime and didn't want to go any further," he said. "But because the University of Minnesota has a Title IX system that is made up of one white female who is asking questions of typically young black males and saying, 'Did you do it? Were you there? Why aren't you talking to me? If you don't, you're going to be expelled,' type of process, there's no way justice can come out of this."

He also took issue with the fact that the young woman, who he says is a cheerleader at the university, is still participating in athletics despite pleading the 5th.

The players have three demands, according to Hutton, in order to end the boycott and have the team play in the Holiday Bowl, including the lifting of the "unjust and premature" suspension, a meeting with Board of Regents members Darrin Rosha and Michael Hsu and the creation of a system to prevent something like this from happening in the future.

Ultimately, Hutton believes there will need to be "some significant shuffling of leadership and some changing of attitudes" within the university.

"There's a reason why chickens aren't leaders," he said. "Because you have to make decisions that are the best for the institution and not for one."

Here is the full conversation:

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and Athletic Director Mark Coyle released this response to the players Friday afternoon:

Dear student-athletes,

We want you to know that the values of our institution are important to us and we are committed to making certain that we uphold them in all that we do.

First, our institutional values require that we treat all members of our campus community with respect. This must occur above all else and cannot waiver.

Second, we have federal law and University processes in place to ensure the safety and respect of all on our campus. We are bound by these processes, which provide clear paths from investigation to due process. We must respect, adhere to and participate in our shared commitment to accountability.

Third, we all represent something bigger than ourselves – the University of Minnesota – and we must do it with integrity. Therefore, we have a responsibility to live out these and other values on campus and off.

We also value all of you, our student-athletes. Like so many of you, our football student-athletes have performed well academically and on the field. They have grown as a team, and for that, we're proud of them and will continue to support their efforts in this regard.

Recent events related to the Gopher football program have made this an incredibly challenging week. Many of you and your colleagues are frustrated, disappointed and angry. Many are surprised at the recent suspensions of players and don't understand, and unfortunately can't know, all of the details that informed the decision. As a result, the circumstances feel very unfair.

Federal laws do not permit anyone at the University to speak about specific student conduct issues. These federal laws exist to equally protect all students across our institution. In fact, all that we can share is the change in student-athlete status with the team – and to be clear, that is all that has occurred this week. The student status of these young men at the University hasn't changed. That was a values-based decision by the Athletics Department and not a legal judgment.

But we can tell you that certain behavior is simply unacceptable and antithetical to our institutional values. We support Gopher Athletics' decision because this is much bigger than football. It is about the values every University of Minnesota student is called on to uphold. We make these expectations clear, and when they are not met, there are consequences. You saw that 18 months ago related to our former athletic director, and it is why we are lucky to have the benefit of Mark Coyle's integrity and reputation. Our values that led to this week's decisions are no different.

We're confident that together, we can get through this difficult time much stronger if we hold true to our values and hold each other accountable. Thank you for all that you do to make your colleagues, Gopher fans and the entire state proud of Minnesota's student-athletes.


Eric W. Kaler, President
Mark Coyle, Director of Athletics

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