Editorial: Athletics department must be more consistent addressing sexual assault

Redshirt junior Reggie Lynch looks to shoot on Jan. 28, 2017 at the Sports Pavilion.

Chris Dang, Daily File Photo

Redshirt junior Reggie Lynch looks to shoot on Jan. 28, 2017 at the Sports Pavilion.

Daily Editorial Board

The Minnesota men’s basketball team will play its 21st game of the season against Maryland Thursday. In the meantime, Gophers starting center Reggie Lynch will practice with the team while he appeals a two-year suspension and expulsion for two sexual misconduct violations that allege sexual assault. 

This incident is the second sexual assault scandal Gophers athletics has endured within a short period of time, after several players on the football team were expelled after similar allegations surfaced in December 2016. Athletics director Mark Coyle has been soft on these issues. Coyle made it known in a Jan. 5 press conference that Lynch was suspended from game play, however, Lynch is currently practicing with the team and enjoying many of the benefits associated with being a Big Ten basketball player. Although Coyle’s tenure as the athletics director is short, there are several instances where alternative actions could have been more consistent, transparent and fair.

Lynch was allegedly involved in several reported incidents stemming from April and May of 2016 with three different women. He was arrested in May 2016 for one instance, however, the Hennepin County Attorney did not prosecute and the University of Minnesota Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA), which holds its own investigation, found that Lynch did not violate the school conduct code. Now, Lynch is facing an appeals process after he was recommended for a two-year suspension and expulsion from the University in the other two cases. This entire time, Lynch has been allowed to practice with the basketball team, use team facilities, and utilize many amenities associated with being a University athlete. Unfortunately, we were not able to learn much of anything from Coyle and head coach Richard Pitino’s press conference, as they cite student privacy laws as a reason to not answer many of the questions.

Reggie Lynch, to say the least, should be suspended from the team completely until the appeals process concludes. According to school protocol, Coyle and Pitino were aware of the second and third investigations in October. Lynch should have been suspended from the start of the investigation process for a plethora of reasons. He was being investigated for several incidents involving multiple different women. This gives his case weight, making it obvious to Coyle that Lynch should be done with sports until settled. Not only is Lynch still allowed to practice with the team, he played in most of the Gophers’ games, despite Coyle being fully aware of the allegations that arose before the season even started. Lynch should have been shut down by Coyle immediately, to allow due process to occur and justice to be found. This separates a possible offender from the team immediately and even protects the accused from being publicly attacked if found innocent. Regardless, that should have been the route taken by Coyle and Pitino immediately.

This incident follows a series of missteps regarding the basketball and football teams. Just two seasons ago, several basketball players were suspended after posting a sex video on Twitter, and last year, several members of the football team were expelled after an investigation into sexual misconduct was completed. Transparency was an issue then, and it certainly seems to be an issue now. We would like to see consistent action from University athletics when similar incidents arise, and transparency between athletics and its followers throughout the entire process.

Coyle has not fared well regarding these several happenings, and no matter how good of an athletics director Coyle is behind the scenes, his failure to handle sexual misconduct publicly calls into question if he can serve well in this current climate. We believe it is time University officials review Coyle’s performance in his short tenure and determine if he is the best person for the job moving forward. Sexual misconduct allegations of all magnitudes need to be handled with care, consistency and poise for the sake of every party involved.