Hundreds sign petition calling for firing of Gopher football coach

Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys
Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys
Nati Harnik | AP file

Updated: 3 p.m., Dec. 28 | Posted: 7 p.m., Dec. 27

More than 2,500 people have signed an online petition calling on the University of Minnesota to fire head football coach Tracy Claeys for what critics call a "failure of leadership and lack of sound judgment."

Organizers delivered the petition to university president Eric Kaler on Wednesday.

"Really what we're doing is calling for a wholesale review of the U of M football program," said Nancy Bitenc, who co-wrote the petition and delivered it with her 9-year-old son.

Kaler acknowledged that he received the petition in an email to Bitenc, but didn't say whether he'll take any action.

In an email Tuesday, university spokesperson Chuck Tombarge said that the school's athletics director, Mark Coyle, and Kaler are both aware of the petition "and the spectrum of views that have been raised in the past weeks."

The petition stems from Claeys' response to his players' now-rescinded boycott of Tuesday's Holiday Bowl against Washington State University.

The student-athletes said on Dec. 15 that they wouldn't play in the bowl game because 10 of their teammates had been suspended from the team in connection with a sexual assault investigation.

Claeys' first public response to the boycott was this tweet:

Many people viewed the message as being tone-deaf to sexual assault and violence against women.

"Claeys' tweet expressing his pride in the team failed to mention or acknowledge the importance of respecting women," the petition on MoveOn.org reads. "Further, it did not condemn violence, sexual assault or disrespect of women."

Two days after announcing their game boycott, the Gophers players rescinded, saying they would return to the practice field. Team members said the reversal came after internal team discussions and a meeting with Kaler and Athletic Director Mark Coyle.

The 10 players haven't been charged criminally, but the university found sufficient evidence to suspend them. Some face expulsion.

"The University is committed to the safety of our campuses and creating a culture free of sexual violence, and we have been deeply heartened by the overwhelming support for the values we hold as a community," university spokesperson Tombarge said Tuesday.

MPR News reporter Brandt Williams contributed to this story.

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