Sex harassment claims led U to investigate Gopher football players

Iowa vs Minnesota game
The line of scrimmage between the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and the Minnesota Golden Gophers, November 8, 2014. University of Minnesota officials found a "concerning pattern of football player conduct" that compelled them to investigate five reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault and retaliation by players.
Adam Bettcher | Getty Images

A "concerning pattern of football player conduct" led University of Minnesota officials to investigate five reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault and retaliation by players.

A July 16 email exchange between then-Athletic Director Norwood Teague and Kimberly Hewitt, head of the university's Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office, outlined several complaints raised about football players during the 2014-2015 school year.

Norwood Teague
Norwood Teague at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, September 16, 2013.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

"The notable number of Title IX-related 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 to Teague and now-interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz.

Hewitt called it a "potential pattern" that may or may not be indicative of a broader problem. She said the EOAA received what she described as a number of "concerns" involving football players related to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender for federally-funded education program or activity.

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Hewitt listed two concerns of sexual assault committed by individual football players, two concerns of sexual harassment involving groups of football players and one concern of retaliation involving a group of football players.

Her office investigated one of the sexual harassment complaints and found one football player violated the sexual harassment policy. It also investigated the retaliation complaint, finding what she called concerning behavior, but not evidence of violations of university policy.

The other sexual harassment concern and the two sexual assault concerns were not investigated because the reporting students did not want to move forward with an investigation, according to the email, which was released by the university after it was detailed in a report by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Hewitt "proactively contacted the Athletics Department to initiate discussions on whether reports of sexual assault and harassment constituted a broader pattern. All of these reports were fully investigated to the extent that they could be and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) did not substantiate any sexual assault allegations. The EOAA Office substantiated one allegation of sexual harassment," Goetz said in a statement Thursday.

The details of the five incidents are not outlined in the email exchange. A U spokesperson said that no criminal charges resulted from any of the complaints or incidents.

"Title IX requires that the University take reasonable steps to prevent future sexual violence and harassment after receiving a complaint, even when the complaining student chooses not to pursue an investigation," Hewitt wrote in the July email exchange. "The University's responsibility to act is greater when circumstances suggest that there is an increased risk of future acts of sexual violence or harassment by a particular group or where there is a potentially concerning pattern."

Beth Goetz
In this Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, photo, University of Minnesota interim athletic director Beth Goetz listens to a question during an interview in Minneapolis.
Ann Heisenfelt | AP

In the exchange, Hewitt asks for a meeting with Teague, Goetz and EOAA Assistant Director Tina Marisam and suggests they later bring in head football coach Jerry Kill.

Teague responded to the email a few hours later saying they should get together to discuss the football issue and says they should include Dan O'Brien, the administrator who oversees football.

The email exchange occurred the day after Teague sexually harassed two female U of M employees during a senior leadership retreat.

The next day, he would meet with U President Eric Kaler regarding Teague's harassment incident. Those incidents would lead Teague to resign a few weeks later.

Goetz said in her statement regarding the issues raised by Hewitt that they held a meeting to determine whether additional education efforts were needed and said those "discussions are ongoing."

"One report of sexual assault or harassment is one too many and we took prompt, responsive action to investigate when notified of these reports," she said in the statement released Thursday. "Coach Kill has a strong track record of dealing with student-athlete issues as soon as they arise."

Goetz's statement also said the athletics department holds annual, mandatory educational training for all student athletes regarding sexual assault.

"We take any allegations of sexual assault or harassment seriously and investigate all reports," she said. "However, under the law ... we are compelled to protect the identities of any reporting students or others involved in investigations."

The school is currently under investigation for Title IX issues regarding equity between men's and women's athletics.

In the spotlight in that investigation is a $166 million Athletes Village complex, which was just approved by the Board of Regents. The village proposal includes indoor basketball and football practice facilities and will displace a track facility used by nearly half of the university's female athletes.