How many times must someone be accused of sexual assault before such serious allegations are taken seriously? At the University of Minnesota and within the men's basketball team, the answer is more than three.
Monday, the University of Minnesota's Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office found men's basketball player Reggie Lynch had violated sexual misconduct policies on April 7, 2016. The previous Friday, Jan. 5, that same EOAA office found Lynch "responsible" for a "sexual misconduct incident" taking place on April 28, 2016.
Upon hearing the news, Minnesota's athletic director Mark Coyle suspended Lynch, allowing him to stay on the team.
The EOAA recommended his expulsion.
In an international climate where more and more victims of sexual misconduct are coming forward with harrowing tales, Coyle's decision is not only wrong, it's a pathetic disgrace. An other-worldly misstep that contradicts everything he has said and stood for over his short tenure at Minnesota.
"We want to make sure that student-athlete has access to athletic medicine and treatment, to academic services, the opportunity to continue compete and be around his team from that standpoint,” Coyle said. “So we thought it was important to go that direction.”
Coyle's decision to ensure Lynch has all the amenities of a scholarship athlete without being able to play in the game equates to a slap on the wrist. It's probably safe to assume that the only thing Lynch's removal from games does is limit his ability to put together game tape for his impending professional career.
Something I'm sure Coyle will list as one of his accomplishments in his next state of the athletic department address to the Minnesota press.
Allegations of sexual misconduct are not new to the university. In 2015, athletics director Norwood Teague resigned after it was made public he sexually harassed two female university employees — inappropriately touching both at a university-sponsored event, and sending graphic texts to one.
It lit a firestorm of other Teague colleagues and acquaintances who expressed the now popular refrain #MeToo.
A few months later, Minnesota's associate athletic director Mike Ellis also resigned amid harassment investigations.
In December of 2016, the newly hired Coyle encountered his first controversy when he suspended 10 players due to an EOAA report detailing sexual assault involving several members of the Minnesota football team.
The Gophers threatened to boycott its bowl game claiming players deserved due process. Coyle and Minnesota President Eric Kaler did not relent, and in some instances ignoring pleas from the Minnesota's players to create a dialogue to end the dispute. Head coach Tracy Claeys publicly supported his players.
All of it caused a huge rift between the football program and the athletic department administration.
Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world! 〽️jQuery17209010057676000773_1515628598694jQuery17204138360941259698_1515630174559
— T Claeys (@t_claeys) December 16, 2016
This herein lies one of the major issues. Claeys' attempt to support his team and not lose his players in the process brought into question the real role a coach plays in the lives of its athletes.
There should never be a time when a coach's loyalty to his players outweigh the morality and code of conduct we should all adhere to as human beings, especially when helpless victims are treated less than human.
The 80-page Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action report detailed a disturbing story that should have scared the University and its players straight.
"[A] drunk, initially reluctant female student consents to sex with two men at an off-campus apartment, only to have the encounter recorded on camera and shared that night. From there, the report says, the night devolved into a series of assaults. Though she was inebriated and at times confused, the woman said she repeatedly voiced her opposition to sexual contact with some of the accused. Unable to reach her clothes and phone, she wrapped herself in a blanket to shield her body and told those present to stop sending people into the bedroom.
Men whose identities were confirmed by interviews and cellphone messages obtained during the university’s investigation allegedly held her shoulders down and forcefully had sex with her. Sometimes it was one man a time; other times it was more. All the while, the report says, men stood at the door watching, laughing, jostling for their turn. The report says that when she finally left the room, its floor littered with used condoms, she “immediately started crying” and jotted down what she could remember of the ordeal, including some names of players. She also wrote, 'I need help this isn’t okay.' The next day, she reported the assault to the Minneapolis Police Department."
Of the 10 players suspended, five players were recommended for expulsion, four were expelled and one had his punishment downgraded to a one-year suspension. Four of the five remaining players who had been suspended had their one-year suspension sentences overturned by an appeal panel or, in the case of one player, the provost.
The fifth player suspended for the bowl game had been recommended just for probation, which was also overturned by an appeal panel.
Coyle's decision to suspend Lynch and not remove him from the basketball team stinks of weakness. An athletic director who has lived in controversy since arriving in May of 2016 has chosen to inflict the least amount of damage in hopes of pleasing all sides, but effectively doing nothing at all to curb the overlying issue.
It is the job of the athletic director to institute a certain culture and control over the entirety of its program. With Coyle's decision not to remove Lynch from the team, not only does he fail in this regard, he empowers a toxic culture that permeates all the way down and enforces a model of invincibility among its best athletes.
Richard Pitino was already the head coach when Coyle arrived. The two, though are cut from the same cloth, incapable of making appropriate decisions when dealing with impactful players. Pitino said there were no red flags when the Gophers vetted Lynch, a transfer from Illinois State. When in reality, many in fact knew of Lynch, especially women.
Abby Honold, a 22-year-old former Minnesota student and rape survivor told Coyle months ago that she knew of “multiple other victims” of sexual misconduct involving Lynch.
Reggie Lynch, this was a long time coming. pic.twitter.com/aNkwtShz0U
— Whitsie (@whitsiee) January 5, 2018
On Friday, Whit Bordscheid posted to Twitter a long, detailed account of Lynch's history with women.
"I look back on high school and remember how often girls would suggest steering clear of Reggie at parties," Bordscheid said. "15-18 year old girls found normalcy in warning each other of his tendencies. This is no exaggeration.”
Campus sexual assault is an epidemic. When people like Pitino and Coyle enable alleged multiple assaulters they continue the pattern of silencing victims from coming forward. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 23.1 percent of female undergraduate students and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.
Only 20 percent of females victims 18-24 report the crime to law enforcement. The other 80 percent don't report due to fear of retribution or in the case of Lynch, those in power will do nothing to curb a repeat offense, among other reasons.
Because in reality, that's exactly what Pitino and Coyle are doing by keeping Lynch in school and on the basketball team. A transgression without consequence leaves no lasting impact on the alleged aggressor while altering the life of the alleged victim forever.
Through his attorney, Ryan Pacyga, Lynch "categorically denies all of these allegations in both instances." That would have been enough. Instead Pacyga, unsolicited, then went on a rant diminishing the movement to curb sexual assault. While people from all walks of life embraced a culture of eliminating silence and encouraging victims to speak up and be heard, Pacyga likened Lynch to Japanese Americans put in internment camps. (Yes, really).
"This is not a perfect analogy, but it seems to me it's a little bit like where there was all of this hysteria when World War II started and we had the Japanese internment camps," he said. "And everybody rushed out of fear to do something like that. We look back now and we think, 'Oh my god, what were we doing?"
He wasn't done.
He also threw out the idea of a "what about me" initiative to combat the "me too" movement.
In a 57-minute news conference, Reggie Lynch's lawyer Ryan Pacyga: denied sexual intercourse happened; alleged possible collusion between the accusers; knocked the leakers of the EOAA documents that found Lynch responsible; cont.
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) January 10, 2018
Pacyga also wanted to make it known he has a daughter.
After the Minnesota football team chose not to boycott its 2016 bowl game, Coyle and Minnesota President Eric Kaler released a statement. They planned “to address issues and concerns that have risen to the surface from across our University community, to make a difference and improve things moving forward.”
When Coyle decided to fire Claeys, he said, "we need a leader who sets high expectations athletically, academically, and socially."
With Coyle's current stance, he is turning his back to these statements and perpetuating the belief that there are different rules for those in power. The expectations he has for coaches can't possibly be met since they are ignored by the person in charge. Coyle knows this, but ignores the ramifications.
The consequence of this negligence could lead to more improprieties by coaches, administrators and players at the University of Minnesota. Attitude and actions of subordinates are merely reflections.
The same can be said for coaches who enter living rooms all across the world, promising to help mold their sons and daughters into citizens of the world. These coaches are entrusted with helping raise children into adults and turn them into positive influences in society.
When Pitino was asked to comment on Lynch, he incredulously said, "I’m just the basketball coach.”
Hopefully not for long. Student-athletes deserve a coach who has a spine.