Jim Carter met with more than a dozen Gophers football alumni Thursday for their annual celebration of legendary University of Minnesota coach Murray Warmath’s birthday later this month.
But the conversation shifted from Warmath to the Minnesota football team’s announced boycott over 10 suspended teammates after fallout from a sexual assault allegation in September.
“I’m so proud of all of them,” said Carter, a former Gophers captain who later played for the Packers. “The alumni there supported the statement these kids made. I think it took a lot of courage. I texted a lot of those kids. I think they did the right thing. I would’ve stood with them.”
From several Gophers alumni to boosters, the reaction Friday before more details emerged was of overwhelming support for the players in the aftermath of the football team’s boycott Thursday night.
Former Gophers All-America and two-time Super Bowl champion Tyrone Carter immediately backed the suspended players on social media after they tweeted early Thursday hashtags of #WeHadEnough.
“We’re looking at the process of how [Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle and University President Eric Kaler] handled the case,” Carter said. “How they issued out the suspensions while [coach Tracy Claeys] was not here. They had some times where they couldn’t defend themselves. Every student has a due process order they have to go through. Don’t look at athletes, seeing that the bowl game is right here, so you can do that to those kids. That’s the thing that bothered me the most.”
Carter said if the players commited an assault “they should be punished, but let them go through the due process.”
Vikings and ex-Gophers wide receiver Isaac Fruechte agreed there were no winners in the situation. But Fruechte sent text messages to some of the U coaching staff and players who he teamed with during his career at Minnesota.
Fruechte chatted briefly with Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner, telling him “I’ll be there for you.”
“I definitely support my teammates and my younger brothers that are there,” Fruechte said. “It’s good to see nowadays, because with all the stuff we got going on in this world, this is something where people are standing together from all different backgrounds. They’re supporting each other and it’s a family, really.”
Gophers legend and Pro and College Hall of Famer Bobby Bell was gathering more information about the situation Friday afternoon when reached in Kansas City. But he understood why the players were frustrated with the decision by Coyle and Kaler.
“They didn’t have to do it,” Bell said about suspending the players before the bowl game. “They could’ve told them they would wait until they all went through the [Title IX investigation hearing process] in January. That’s crazy. That’s tough.”
Bell, who is being inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame during the game on Jan. 2, doesn’t want to see the Gophers miss the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 against Washington State in San Diego.
“It’s going to hurt the university,” he said. “It’s going to hurt the Big Ten. Not playing in a bowl game — that’s big, man.”
Major U donor and Ames Construction founder Dick Ames spoke passionately about his disgust for so many recent incidents with Gophers athletics, including former athletic director Norwood Teague’s resignation for sexual harassment in August 2015.
“Do you think I feel like pouring money into a program that is like that all the time?” Ames said. “Not at all. I’m not the only booster who feels that way. I know some boosters who aren’t interested in the athletic program who are going to feel another way. But the ones of us who think sports are important are naturally going to be hurt by it.”
On the football players’ boycott, Ames said, “I hope those boys don’t give up.”
But he believes the damage has already been done on the program.
“Even if they get this settled, it’s going to hurt the program and recruiting,” he said. “You think those coaches out there at other places are going to use this against us? You’re darn right they are.”
Mark Sheffert, chairman and CEO of Minneapolis-based Manchester Companies, is a prominent booster who sides with the players because he feels they haven’t received enough support from the university.
“They all need to be heard,” Sheffert said. “Are they truly innocent until proven guilty? Or are they guilty and they have to prove their innocence? It really bothers me.”