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Tracy Claeys Has No Idea What He's Talking About

Photo: Nati Harnik/Associated Press

The Tracy Claeys redemption tour has begun and, as this particular sort of redemption tour tends to, it’s already revealing more about how ridiculous it is for football coaches to be seen as righteous educational and intellectual leaders than anything else. On Tuesday, Claeys was fired—in part, administrators said, because of his tweet of support for a brief boycott by his players, due to 10 teammates being suspended for their part in an alleged sexual assault. (The university has found the players violated student policies against sexual assault and sexual harassment; prosecutors concluded there was not enough evidence to make a criminal case.)


The boycott ended once a copy of the 80-page university report, filled with graphic details of what the university believes happened that night, was leaked to KSTP-TV in Minnesota. But Claeys’s talking points in his own, ongoing defense—which sound very righteous, with allusions to the U.S. Constitution, due process, and concerns about law enforcement’s role in society—are mostly idiotic bullshit.

Claeys went on ESPN’s Outside the Lines yesterday, where he was interviewed by Kate Fagan. On the show, Fagan asked him if—had he read the report earlier—he would have done something different. He said he wouldn’t have, and then gave a long explanation as to why, starting by taking an odd stance on his tweet.

No. I wouldn’t. Because in no way was the tweet about sexual assault. I would never do that. I mean, anyone in our football program would never support that.


It was about sexual assault. A tweet about a sexual-assault investigation is about sexual assault. Claeys kept going. (For those who want to watch, note that the video, as posted online by OTL, cuts off in the middle and picks up in a second video here.)

So, it was all about how the report came about, the process that put the report together. That for the, it’s hard for the kids to understand it goes from four to 10 players that, you know, had been investigated by the law. And now on campus it came up with totally different results and I understand there is a higher standard there, which there should be for athletes. But, you know, so that was a part of it. This is all about the fairness and the due process and how the report is put together. When you put together a report and nobody gets a chance to cross examine the information or where it comes from before you put out the report constitutionally that’s not right.

That’s what we want. We want fairness for both sides and all students, I would say, on all campuses across the United States. That’s what the boycott was about. Is putting some fairness in it for everybody. And that’s what I was proud of, that they took that stance ... There’s people talking about this all over now, and that whole process just needs to be looked at to get fairness into the system for every student that chooses a university.


Whatever Claeys is claiming here, the boycott wasn’t about fairness for both sides, but about football players getting their teammates back in the game. That is exactly what they asked for. Despite this, various people around the team have attempted at various points to cloud the issue, with a team spokesman asserting at one point the players involved were “this close to going to prison,” which suggests he didn’t bother reading readily-available police reports or even take note of the fact that players involved were never arrested, let alone charged. The retelling of the boycott as an attempt to cast light on an unfair system is, as Laura Wagner wrote in Slate, purely revisionist:

To state the obvious, this desperate, revisionist telling makes no sense. For one thing, in announcing the boycott the team had already weighed in on whether their teammates had “committed misconduct,” asserting without equivocation that the suspended players were “falsely accused.” Backpedaling on that point now reeks of insincerity. So, too, does the complete reversal of logic regarding the boycott. Not playing in a football game was supposed to convince the university and the public that they were right. Now, playing in a football game is supposed to do that. The players’ messaging has no consistency because what they want isn’t justice; it’s the perpetuation of the status quo. The players also clearly and fundamentally do not understand what due process entails. Not being allowed to play football isn’t a violation of anyone’s due process rights, and the school is well within its purview in suspending those found to have violated its policy. Maybe this, at least, is something the team might come to “slowly understand.”


(Since Claeys decided to drop the word “constitutionally” in there, I will further take the absurd step of pointing out that the rights to play college football or review reports your university writes about you are not in the U.S. Constitution.)

The sort of vague language about fairness that Claeys is using here comes up in debates about Title IX because federal leadership has issued almost no concrete guidelines to universities on how to conduct investigations and hearings on sexual assault. All they have to be is prompt, fair, and equitable to both sides—and some lawsuits have been won by proving that hearings held in certain instances weren’t fair to the accused.


But there’s no evidence (so far) in the public record that such is the case in Minnesota. The university report doesn’t show its work—its investigators, unlike police, don’t have to say how they got people to talk or gathered evidence—but it’s also part of a process that isn’t over. The players are appealing the decision. They also are represented, as tends to happen with football players at serious programs, by a very good lawyer who should be very adept at uncovering if something went wrong or was truly unfair to his clients. (This lawyer, Lee Hutton, has said he will sue, though he has not announced any lawsuits yet.)


After Claeys expressed his concerns about fairness, Fagan asked him if he should have had a game plan considering how much Title IX has come up at other universities. He said people tend to work under the assumption that it “won’t happen to us,” and then decided to talk about the process again because of his concern about “fairness for both sides and all students.”

There’s a lot of students, I guarantee you, that sign their acceptance into universities whether an athlete or not and don’t realize how this whole process works until it hits you. So one of the things that I hope comes out of this is at orientations in universities they be specific and explain to kids how this works and the same thing to athletic departments.

I know for a fact now you learn something new every day. If I get another opportunity, that’ll be part of our training, is bringing someone in explaining just how this works with the whole process of not only the law but then the university.


It’s hard to read this any other way than as a college football coach saying he needs someone to explain the student code of conduct—the code his athletes all promised to follow, and the one their parents might have thought he would give their sons guidance on following—to him. You would struggle to find a better piece of evidence that football coaches, whatever their pretenses to being educators, are football coaches.

Near the end, Fagan asked if he had confidence that he understood what happened. This was his answer.

It’s a great country we live in. When you have a felony type situation, such a serious situation, which again any type of sexual assault or sexual misconduct is serious and needs to be looked at, and you have it looked at and investigated by law enforcement and people trained to investigate that, and they come back with one decision. And then, you know, it comes back another way in like say a process that our kids didn’t feel fair. Is that, I, I don’t know how that trumps an all-out police investigation.


This is one of the most insidious parts of all. Because what Claeys leaves out is just as important as what he says: He leaves out that American police departments across the country have a history of not taking reports of rape seriously. Last year, BuzzFeed found evidence that Baltimore police were dismissing rape reports without investigating them—six years after the Baltimore Sun had uncovered evidence that police might have been dismissing rape reports and the city police department promised to fix it. And this is before you add on other issues across the country, like all the rape kits that activists are still fighting to get tested.

In the Minneapolis case, Claeys leaves out how there’s been a lack of transparency from the Minneapolis police department and Hennepin County prosecutors what happened with the football players. Prosecutors have refused to release a copy of any documents explaining in detail why they think they cannot bring criminal charges. Police aren’t commenting, so they aren’t explaining why they talked to fewer football players than the university did, documented finding fewer witnesses than the university, and omit any mention in their reports of a lengthy statement the student said she gave them about what happened that night.


Transparency from law enforcement especially matters in this case because last year another Minnesota student who was raped had to fight to get Minneapolis police and Hennepin County prosecutors to thoroughly pursue her case, as the Star Tribune detailed a few months ago. Minneapolis police at first closed the case because they somehow misheard a recording of a phone call that Abby Honold was tricked into doing with Daniel Drill-Mellum’s frat brothers after she reported the rape. Prosecutors said they would only bring a case if she found another victim to go on the record, according to the report. Honold did, and Drill-Mellum was convicted.

Treating the police as sole and final arbiters only works if victims trust the police. And right now, there are many good reasons why victims don’t.


Anyway, Claeys kept going.

You know, my personal belief, and this is just me on my own, I don’t know if we want a single office on any campus handling anything that would be like a felony type of charge that will change a kid’s life forever. I’ve seen some of these transcripts from just in recruiting and looking at transfer kids, that some of the things that are put on these transcripts when these kids go through these investigations, is they have no chance. And there was never any criminal type of charges filed against them. When schools get these and see what’s on them in the admissions, they’re really, you know, they’re hampering these kids for life. Like you say. Is that’s my own belief is that shouldn’t be handled on campus whenever you’ve got a chance of ruining someone’s life.


At no point does Claeys betray any sign of ever having considered about what it might be like for a victim of rape to be on campus with the student who raped them and how, for that student, it already feels like a life ruined. Nor does he show any sign of understanding that Title IX is, among other things, a tool meant to protect such a student’s right to an education.

Title IX is far from perfect. Too often, universities have used claims about student privacy to protect themselves while leaving all involved—accusers and accused—feeling like they were worse off. Many universities have refused to provide even modicums of transparency. There are legitimate questions about how much Title IX is working, and the lack of clear federal guidelines on even the basic framework of how a hearing should work is astounding. Off campus, law enforcement still has miles to go in terms of improving its response to reports of rape and sexual assault.


But Claeys doesn’t seem to give a fuck about any of that. He’s the worst possible messenger for anyone who wants to change Title IX. To go by what he has to say, Claeys isn’t worried about due process, or the Constitution, or the quality of police investigations, or why a woman who is raped can’t even safely assume her rape kit will be tested. He’s just worried about finding the right buzzwords to land him another lucrative job where he’ll allegedly be in education, and will definitely be in football.

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About the author

Diana Moskovitz

Senior editor at Deadspin

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