Ten Gophers football players suspended indefinitely

Five of the players face expulsion, their attorney Lee Hutton said Wednesday night.

Minnesota defensive back KiAnte Hardin fends off Northwestern wide receiver Marcus McShepard at TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 19, 2016. Minnesota won 29-12 over Northwestern at their last home game of the season.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota defensive back KiAnte Hardin fends off Northwestern wide receiver Marcus McShepard at TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 19, 2016. Minnesota won 29-12 over Northwestern at their last home game of the season.

Mike Hendrickson

Ten Gophers football players have been suspended indefinitely from all team activities in relation to an alleged sexual assault.

Lee Hutton, the player’s attorney, told the Minnesota Daily that the ten players were investigated by the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, which led to the suspensions. On Tuesday, Hutton said the suspensions were in relation to a Sept. 2 alleged sexual assault.

Five players face expulsion, Hutton said.

The EOAA handles Title IX investigations, including sexual misconduct.

The players suspended are: Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, Seth Green, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson, Kobe McCrary, Antonio Shenault, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr., according to an emailed University statement Tuesday night.

The University said it wouldn’t share any additional information, citing privacy restrictions on student educational data.

University President Eric Kaler emailed a statement to boosters Wednesday afternoon saying the players will miss the team’s next game, the Dec. 27 matchup against Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.

“The decision by [football head coach Tracy Claeys], which was made in consultation with our Athletics Director Mark Coyle, is based on facts and our University’s values,” he said in the email.

Coyle spoke to media Wednesday night – his first public statement on the matter since the University released its statement Tuesday night – and said student privacy laws prevent him from commenting any further on the suspensions.

“Our department will never lose sight of our responsibility to uphold the university’s values and to provide a great experience for all university students,” Coyle said. “When we make decisions, including difficult decisions like I made in consultation with coach Claeys recently, it will always be with those values in mind.”

Claeys was not made available for comment immediately, as he was in San Diego for a press conference about the Gophers upcoming bowl game.

At his Wednesday press conference, Claeys also declined to comment.

Defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel said at a press conference that he has spoken to some of the players since he found out about the suspensions Tuesday afternoon.

He said one player – a veteran on the team who was suspended – claims he wasn’t in the room at the time of alleged assault.

“We are a resilient group,” Sawvel said at the press conference. “We’re under attack.”

No players – including the ones under suspension – were made available to talk.

Click here to see a timeline of events regarding the suspensions.

Background

Claeys suspended four of the players — Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson — on Sept. 10 for three games for a violation of team rules. The Minneapolis Police Department investigated the four players for their alleged involvement in the alleged Sept. 2 sexual assault.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office declined to pursue charges against the players on Oct. 3. No player was arrested. Claeys lifted the suspensions the following day.

Before an Oct. 22 game against Rutgers University, Buford, Djam, Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson and Kiondre Thomas were served with restraining orders, which barred them from participating in home games. The orders stemmed from the alleged Sept. 2 incident and were filed by a University student and TCF Bank Stadium employee. Thomas’ restraining order was lifted on Oct. 24.

The remaining restraining orders were dismissed on Nov. 2 after a settlement was reached between the players and the student. The settlement said the five players must stay at least 20 feet away from the student.

Seven of the players — Buford, Djam, Hardin, Dior Johnson, McCrary, Shenault and Winfield Jr. — saw playing time for the Gophers this season. Hardin, McCrary, Shenault and Winfield Jr. made at least one start.

The remaining players — Green, Dior Johnson and Mark Williams — all are freshmen and were redshirted this season.