I doubt it will even get read, and I tried to keep short, but I just couldn’t. I’m always calling upon my congregation to do what they can to shine light into a dark world, so this is just my meager effort in doing that. Regardless, it helped my soul to send it. Here’s my letter to University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler:
Hello President Kaler and Staff,
I am writing to you today as a concerned alumnus and lifelong Gopher sports fan (I wanted to include Athletic Director Mark Coyle as well, but I could not find his contact information). Every now and then something flips a switch in a person and you realize you have to do something about it. That happened to me this weekend when the news broke that the football team had called a boycott in light feeling that due process had been given in the sexual assault case from earlier this year. As I watched those players address the media feeling they had been wronged, a switch flipped in me around sexual violence on campus. I know this is an issue on campuses across the country and I know it’s an issue about which the University of Minnesota cares deeply and on which it has been working hard to quell. I loved my years at the U, and as someone who spent 15 years working with teenagers in churches and is now the pastor of a church in town, my heart swells with pride when on “Grad Sundays” one of my students announces that s/he is going to be a Gopher. They always get a “ski-u-mah” from their pastor.
My heart broke for my alma mater this weekend as I watched these football players citing themselves as the victim. There’s a lot I don’t know when it comes to policies, procedures, due process, etc., but here’s what I do know: All too often we men- especially young men- have no idea how our words, actions, and mere presence impact women. The number of women I know of who have been sexually assaulted on campuses is shocking to me. Men are assaulting women on campuses across the nation without even knowing it sometimes. Furthermore the “machismo” culture in men’s sports makes matter worse. There is probably nothing to say here that you don’t already know, but this it a serious issue and I don’t know that it’s getting any better.
When coach Claeys said on Twitter that he had “never been more proud of our kids”, it hit me how much of this issue starts with him. I’ve been a Gopher sports fan my whole life (I grew up in Minneapolis), and I’ve been hearing about sexual assault by Gopher athletes my whole life. While Coach Claeys has back tracked on his tweet (a little), I think his tweet reveals that he is utterly clueless when it comes to the nature and psychology of sexual violence, yet he has more influence on these young man than anyone. Because of this, I am calling for the immediate dismissal of coach Claeys. We need someone leading these young men who will teach them about more than football. The Gopher Football team is a group of men that could probably have more positive impact on matters of sexual violence on campus than any other group. Other young men will listen to them and they will be heard. We need someone leading them who does not need to be taught about the nature and psychology of sexual violence.
Furthermore, I am also calling for a rigorous, intentional and practical curriculum for men’s sports teams, starting with the football team, to be educated on matters regarding sexual violence in such a way that they not merely learn about it but become the campus leaders in matters of sexual violence. Sexual assault is not a women’s issues. It’s a men’s issue. What if the University of Minnesota became the school where its athletes are known as leaders and advocates on these matters, not the perpetrators? What if instead of being known as people who wonder how far they can go without getting into trouble, they became known as advocates for the health and safety of women on campus? How amazing would that be. We have an opportunity before us to revolutionize men’s athletics, but it’s going to take work. It can’t be mere lip service.
I am a man of little influence when it comes to the University of Minnesota. I cannot afford to support it financially nor can even even afford to attend many athletic events. From a financial standpoint, you will not miss me at all. But I love my alma mater, and I don’t want to stop supporting its athletic teams that I love. But until I see Coach Claeys dismissed and I see some serious plans in place to make our male athletes leaders on campus on these matters, I will not be rooting for the Gopher football team. In next week’s Holiday Bowl, I will cheer for the Washington State Cougars, and until I see those changes, I will be finding another football team in the Big Ten to support, and will be using the limited influence I have to encourage others to do the same. I am just one small voice of many, but I hope you will hear me. I am very concerned about the young women I send off to college campuses across the country, and I would love to send them to my beloved alma mater with a little more confidence. No matter our win/loss record, Big 10 standing, or bowl game presence, being a leader on the issue of sexual violence would make Gopher Football a winner in this alum’s eyes.
Thank you for your time. Ski-U-Mah
pastor paul baudhuin, Aldersgate United Methodist Church