"Have never been more proud of our kids," University of Minnesota football coach Tracy Claeys tweeted on December 15. "I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!"
Seen from the vaccuum of football life, it made perfect sense. The university had just suspended 10 players after a long-running investigation of a sexual assault. Claeys' team was threatening to boycott tonight's Holiday Bowl, believing the 10 were denied due process, since none had been charged in a criminal investigation.
The players in question were no doubt verbose in their innocence. And the university, which tends to go full Kremlin whenever scandal arises, was offering few details, hiding behind privacy laws and making it seem as if it was sacrificing players in an expeditious ploy to cleanse its hands.
But from outside that football vaccuum, Claeys seemed as tone deaf as Donald Trump speaking before a black church.
He works at a university, where sexual assault is the third rail of public discourse. He was the adult in the room, and he had to know the school possessed at least some compelling evidence that his players were scumbags. The school wouldn't simply jettison 10 guys on whim, knowing the blizzard of litigation to come.
Then the university's investigation was leaked. The players quickly encountered an "oh shit!" moment. Militant demands suddenly gave way to mumbles of "my bad." The boycott was off.
Claeys was left holding the bag.
A rising chorus now calls for his head. In a petition at Moveon.org, 1,300 people are asking U President Eric Kaler to whack the coach. The number of signatures is rising quickly.
Claeys has tried to backpedal, announcing his intent to donate $50,000 to support victims of assault. But the press is already speculating he'll be fired. And as Claeys well knows, universities are quick to offer sacrifices whenever scandal arises.