Author on Gophers sexual assault case: ‘We’ve never seen this kind of thing’

boycottJessica Luther embarked on writing “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape” in 2014 after her favorite team, Florida State, was embroiled in scandal. The book was released in September and is suddenly very pertinent to what is going on at the University of Minnesota.

Luther, who is based in Austin, Texas, said during a phone interview Friday that the complicated situation playing out with the Gophers is both unusual in some ways and all-too-familiar in others.

Typically, Luther said, a school’s top administrators are reactive and not proactive. In the case of Minnesota, where an investigation by the school’s office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action recommended sanctions against 10 players, officials acted on those recommendations by swiftly doling out suspensions.

“The actual suspension came from the top,” Luther said. “That’s weird. Most of the time they are reacting behind what is going on.”

Luther also said the subsequent boycott from other players over the suspensions is uncharted territory in this kind of case.

“It’s just very strange in that the players are being very public in their response to what has happened. We’ve never seen this kind of thing,” she said. “What’s very clear to me is that I don’t think the players have a good sense of what has happened or what the process is. That’s unsurprising even though I find it distressing. I don’t think most college students know about the criminal process or university process.”

The nature of the alleged incident itself, though, matches much of Luther’s research. She said upward of 40 percent of college football-related sexual assault incidents that are reported on in the media involve multiple members of a team.

Also familiar has been the lack of understanding of the distinction between a criminal investigation — one that resulted in no charges being filed by the Hennepin County Attorney’s office — and the University investigation that led to the 10 players being suspended.

The evidence needed by the attorney’s office is a higher bar than the evidence needed by the EOAA. In criminal court, it’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.” On campus, school officials must decide if it was “more likely than not” that an assault occurred.

“People conflate not having charges filed and not guilty. In this kind of case, most people are not comfortable with the grey of it. We will never know guilt or non-guilt through a court of law. That’s hard for us. We want an outcome. But that there is a parallel process that looks similar but is very different that plays out on the campus,” Luther said. “The EOAA is trying to decide if (the person) is safe enough to be on their campus. That’s much different than whether they will spend time in prison. That’s not to say it doesn’t have an impact on lives, but it’s fundamentally different. The EOAA is looking for a preponderance of evidence. That’s an important distinction, and I think people have a hard time with that.”

In regards to what appeared to be an important piece of evidence in the decision not to proceed with criminal charges — three separate videos of the night in question shot by one of the players and shown to police — Luther had concerns.

An officer wrote in a report that the alleged victim on the video “appears lucid, alert, somewhat playful and fully conscious; she does not appear to be objecting to anything at this time. After viewing two additional videos, he wrote “the sexual contact appears entirely consensual.”

“What exactly is on the video of and how does that match what she said? And we’re trusting the video of a person she said perpetrated a crime?” Luther said. “(The alleged victim) said she felt unsafe, which might not be obvious (on a video). One thing we know about this kind of gender violence is that the victim will go along with something they don’t feel comfortable with because they don’t feel like they can say no. So what would that look like on a video? It’s so much more complicated than what a video can capture most of the time.”

Should ‘Thadrek Falvine’ be listening to Twins fans and making more moves?

ThadrekFalvineIf you watched the Twins Town Hall feature on FSN Wednesday night — a one-hour forum featuring questions from fans and FSN folks for Derek Falvey, Thad LeVine and Paul Molitor of the Twins — you probably didn’t learn a ton of specifics about the 2017 team. (If you missed it, I imagine it will be replayed a bunch of times).

This is probably by design but also by necessity, since Falvey and Levine are really still getting up to speed on the whole organization and the pieces with which they have to work.

That said, they are also operating a team that lost 103 games last year during an offseason that’s not terribly long. Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in about 2 months. Even if Falvey and Levine are correct in their assertion that the Twins have more talent (young talent at that) than most teams coming off a 59-win season, this is an organization that has holes in the short-term and long-term.

They’ve patched one by signing catcher Jason Castro, but I get the sense that some fans are getting a little antsy for more action.

I asked on Twitter whether that’s true — and if Thadrek Falvine, a mash-up of the two Twins bosses who seem very much joined in the spirit of synergy and collaboration in the decision-making process, should be taking into account what fans want when they make decisions. (Note: that image of Falvey and Levine combined into one person looks a lot more like Levine to me than it does Falvey).

To the part about being antsy, fan responses were about 50-50. Refreshingly, to the question about whether the Twins bosses should be listening to fans, the overwhelming majority said no. Perhaps the response that best captured the overall spirit was this one:

If the roster still looks pretty similar on Feb. 1 — or if the Twins make a trade involving Brian Dozier that proves to be unpopular — I have a feeling the answers might be different. For now, though, it seems as though a pretty good number of Twins fans are in “trust the process” mode.

Who is the oldest living former NBA player who can still dunk?

kareemThree years ago, Julius Erving — Dr. J, then 63 years old — dunked. There is video evidence of this. It barely got over the rim, but 1) it counts and 2) the guy was 63 years old. Give him a break.

What my good friend Tom Linnemann wants to know — and this is something we spent a good hour or so debating last night, in various venues and stages of the evening — is who is the oldest living former NBA player who can still dunk RIGHT NOW.

Is it Dr. J, now 66? Or have the past three years taken juuuuust enough off his hops to the point that he can no longer throw a ball down?

Should we be thinking about someone a little younger?

Michael Jordan could still dunk at 50 (three years ago), and I have little doubt that he will be dunking for a while. But he’s almost certainly not the oldest former player who can currently dunk.

Or should we be thinking about someone a little older? A common name brought up last night was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is now 69 years old. Kareem is nearly 7-2 without shoes (seven inches taller than Dr. J) and has a 7-5 wingspan. He needs far less of a jump to get to the rim than Dr. J. and many others, and outside of some serious health scares over the years appears to have stayed in good athletic condition for his age.

Maybe it’s someone even older — someone who wasn’t even a “name” player in the NBA. Most likely it would be someone tall like Kareem who stayed in good shape (and still has good knees), as opposed to an athletic shooting guard/small forward type who was a great leaper in his day.

What I do know is this: 1) I would absolutely watch a retired NBA player dunk competition, broken into age category, that would help settle this question. 2) Dunking, even on a shorter hoop, is an amazing feeling.

U quietly renames Sports Pavilion in honor of ex-AD Joel Maturi

joel maturiTucked away in a motion filled with several honors as part of the final business of the day at last Thursday’s U of M Board of Regents meeting, a significant change was voted on and approved:

The Sports Pavilion, used by several of the school’s non-revenue teams, has been renamed the Joel Maturi Sports Pavilion to honor the man who was Gophers athletic director from 2002-2012.

The news, first mentioned over the weekend on WCCO radio, was confirmed by Board of Regents Chairman Dean Johnson — who has also been dealing with some of the fallout from the decision, with some questioning the quiet nature of the process that led to the honor, Maturi’s credentials in receiving the honor or both.

Johnson said Maturi was nominated for the honor, which was then vetted by a committee, approved by President Eric Kaler and sent to the board for approval. It was part of an agenda item under honors and naming rights (page 50 on the link), though none of the handful of people being honored was specifically named on the agenda.

The board approved the renaming of the Pavilion without discussion, which rankled former Gophers football player Jim Carter, a program supporter who aspires to be a board member. He said a lack of transparency “is a serious problem for the Board of Regents and this administration.”

Johnson agreed that there were flaws in the process.

“I think when you have a high-profile issue or individual, it’s a good thing to discuss it in public. In this case we did not. As the chair of the board, I wish someone would have said, ‘Here’s Joel Maturi, this is the honor we want to bestow on him, and people could have made comment.’ But it was part of a larger motion of other honors,” Johnson said. “After the fact there were some questions, which is fine, about how did this happen and what was the process. There are lessons learned in the process — nothing that Joel did or didn’t do, just the process. We’ve already taken a second look at the process so it’s more transparent and clear going forward.”

Maturi’s decade-long tenure as AD was filled with notable accomplishments (construction of TCF Bank Stadium, NCAA titles in multiple sports) and coaching hires (Tubby Smith, Jerry Kill and Hugh McCutcheon among them). But it was also filled with missteps such as hiring of football coach Tim Brewster and expensive buyouts for other fired coaches. He was an ardent supporter of all the school’s athletic programs — something proponents pointed to as a strength while detractors pointed to as a flaw, arguing that it came at the expense of boosting higher-profile sports.

“When you offer up an honor to an individual there at times will be someone who doesn’t agree. They voice their opinion for whatever kind of reason. I expect Joel Maturi has  a lot of supporters but also detractors,” Johnson said. “In the end, (the naming vote) passed and the reality is that it will move forward. Is everyone happy? Mr. Maturi, in his capacity as AD, had difficult situations. You hire coaches, you fire coaches, you live and die on the amount of money you raise and the facilities you put together and your win-loss records. When I think of Joel Maturi I think of his ability to bring men’s and women’s athletes under one AD and give equal opportunity and competition to both.”

Perhaps, then, the Pavilion — 5,000-plus seat multi-purpose facility that is sometimes overlooked but is vital to men’s and women’s teams at the U — is the perfect building to bear his name. Johnson made it clear that this is an honor for “good things done on behalf of the University” and not the result of a monetary donation.

As for when we’ll see tangible evidence of the name change, Johnson wasn’t sure of specifics.

“When will you see Joel Maturi’s name go up on the Sports Pavilion?” Johnson asked. “Let’s just say when the weather warms up.”

Stefon Diggs on Adrian Peterson: ‘I think you’ll see him soon’

diggspetersonStefon Diggs could be come the first Vikings receiver since Sidney Rice in 2009 to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a season (he needs 139 in his final three games).

What he CERTAINLY is already is the first Vikings player to appear in-studio at the Star Tribune for a recording of the Access Vikings podcast. He was in the building this morning and recorded a couple of segments while offering tremendous insights (and good humor, too).

You’ll have to listen for his thoughts on Sam Bradford, his idea for an all-Vikings remake of “Love Jones” or his thoughts on Old Bay seasoning. Right here and now, I’ll transcribe Diggs’ podcast thoughts on teammate Adrian Peterson and whether he thinks No. 28 will play again this season:

“From my point of view, that’s one of the freakiest athletes in the world,” Diggs said. “And I think you’ll see him soon.”

Diggs was smiling a lot during that line of questioning. Podcast co-host Matt Vensel reminded Diggs that Peterson said Monday he plans to return for Week 16 against Green Bay.

Diggs smiled again. “When I say one of the special athletes in the world … you’ll see him.”

There’s a small part of me that thinks Peterson could even play this Sunday (at home) against Indianapolis. At the very least, this is more evidence that we will see Peterson again at some point in 2016.

An amazing connection between Gophers volleyball and the 1998 Vikings

Patrick Reusse called Monday night around 7. It was bad timing (middle of a run to Target with a 2-year-old), so I let it go. A minute later, he texted. “Call me” was all it said.

That was the plan, but Reusse beat me to it. An hour later, he called again. This time, I figured I’d better answer it. “I’ve got something great for RandBall,” he bellowed. When he says this, he’s usually right.

So here it is:

By now, you might have seen the final point of the Gophers’ volleyball team’s sweep of UCLA that sent Minnesota to the Final Four. It was a booming spike, and it unfortunately caught a Bruins player right in the face.

Nobody wants to lose, but losing like that makes it even a little worse.

But here’s the part Reusse was breathlessly eager to report: the poor UCLA player who served the ball and then took the return in the face is Ryann Chandler.

She happens to be the daughter of former NFL QB Chris Chandler — yes, the same one who quarterbacked the Falcons to the NFC title game victory over the Vikings after the 1998 season.

Wait! Further research says she’s also the granddaughter of former 49ers QB John Brodie, who beat the 12-2 Vikings 17-14 in the 1970 playoffs.

Worlds. Colliding.

For her part, Ryann seems to be taking the painful play in stride — at least if her most recent retweet is any clue!

The 2016 Timberwolves are the 2016 Twins

gorguiThe 2016 Twins started the year with so much promise. Front-office types and fans, encouraged by an 83-79 finish in 2015 that included a realistic push for a playoff bid that came up short, were convinced the team could take another step forward.

Instead, the Twins started 0-9. By the one-quarter mark of the season, about a month-and-a-half into things, the Twins were 10-31 — winning roughly one of every four games. If playoffs were the goal, the season was over with 75 percent of it left to play.

I mention this now not to pile on but to bring up a painful parallel.

The 2016 Timberwolves, you see, are repeating that gloomy history. They started the year with so much promise. We were all very excited after an improvement from 16 wins to 29 wins over the past two seasons — which included a 15-17 record in the final 32 games last year and several notable victories with a young team. It didn’t seem far-fetched that the addition of a respected new coach (Tom Thibodeau) and another top draft pick (Kris Dunn) would help propel the improving group to a 40-win (or better) season.

Instead, the Wolves started 1-5. And things haven’t gotten better from there. By roughly the quarter mark of the season, about a month-and-a-half into things, the Wolves are 6-18 — winning one of every four games. If playoffs were the goal, the season is pretty much over already. Don’t believe me? The Wolves would need to go 35-23 in their last 58 games just to finish .500.

Both teams lamented close games that got away as explanations for their early woes.

Guess what? That’s what bad teams — or at least teams with key deficiencies — do.

For the Twins, the lack of pitching excellence and quality bullpen depth showed up in a lot of late-game situations early in the season, turning would-be wins into losses. Five of their first six losses were by 1 or 2 runs. From there, losing became habitual.

For the Wolves, a young group that doesn’t yet understand team defensive concepts or how to stop the bleeding when another team is making a run has been the recipe for a lot of early leads that have turned into losses.

There is still time for the Timberwolves to change the narrative on this season and for their young players to show more than individual offensive promise. (The Twins even played close to .500 ball for half a season after that dreadful start, going 39-40 in their next 79 games before tailing off at the end to finish 59-103).

And even if the Wolves continue to struggle, that doesn’t mean there can’t be growth.

But it’s become pretty clear all-too-early that this isn’t going to be the season that was envisioned at Target Center — just like it wasn’t across the way at Target Field.

10 years ago, RandBall (the blog) was born

randballThe first post in this blog’s history was Dec. 8, 2006. It was a test post about a kitten, which makes no sense and all the sense in the world. It ended with the words, “that kitten is practically begging for Randball.”

Yes, that was 10 years ago — which is about 100 years in internet time. It’s so long ago that the server that housed the first 4 years or so of posts no longer exists. I couldn’t even show you the first post if I wanted to (I don’t want to). But trust me, it exists — as do about 8,000 other posts.

I started blogging back then basically as a side project. I was reading a lot of Deadspin and thought, “hey, we should be doing something kind of like this” (albeit with more of a Minnesota focus and fewer swear words) at the Star Tribune. I was already doing the Page 2 feature and was about to become the high school sports editor. I certainly didn’t need more work to do.

But it was — and remains — a labor of love. I had just turned 30 (so math can now tell you I just turned 40). I was engaged but not yet married. I was about 7 years away yet from having any children (now I have two). Basically in those early days, I would get up in the morning, think about what I wanted to write about, and write it. Then I would go for a run, come home, maybe post again, then come into the office.

I was posting up to eight times a day back then, which is crazy when I think about it now. A lot of the posts were short and played off of some breaking news or funny thing that happened. Most posts didn’t take more than 15-20 minutes to put together, which is probably how I kept up that pace. Also, there was far less content on startribune.com so I kind of had the run of the place.

Over the years, I experimented with some different styles of post. Early on, there were a lot more reader contributions. A lot of those folks have busier lives now, too — though I still maintain that Clearance Clarence and Stu’s Hunt Down were some of the best things on the blog. And many of the original blog commenters are still some of my very good friends today (Internet friends, as my wife calls them).

I got a little hot take-y for a while, then (tried) to dial that back. I got a little stats-crazy for a while, then (tried) to dial that back. I used to say “we” when I was referring to myself. Now I just say I.

Nowadays, I try to post a few times every day with a mix of humor, perspective, context and “utility” — a buzzword in our industry that basically means that readers would find it useful.

Sometimes I write things that look terribly dumb in retrospect. Other times I write things I actually like as time goes on.

Some days I wake up knowing exactly what I’m going to write about. Other days I have no idea. Still other times, I go into a day or week with a plan and it gets totally torn up by something that happens in this crazy sports market.

But for 10 years, I have had an amazing freedom to write so much of what I wanted to write — things I thought were important, things I thought you would read, things I thought we could all engage with in a meaningful way.

I am still grateful for that opportunity and for anyone who has ever read a word I wrote. Let’s keep doing this as long as we can.

They still won that game? Your Vikings game story in 5 GIFs

Sunday’s 25-16 Vikings win over Jacksonville had all the makings of a season-crushing defeat. Instead, the Vikings did enough big things to win in spite of themselves. Let’s get right to the game story, in 5 GIFs (and a bunch of words).


1. Goal line adventures: The Vikings kicked a field goal on their first trip inside the Jacksonville 10. They turned it over on downs at the goal line. They fumbled at the goal line. This is not the recipe for a slump-busting victory, but on two other TD drives they did just enough to prevail. Still, their short-yardage problems are not getting better. That doesn’t bode well for the final three games.

Image result for disappointed gif
2. Extra points, man: Raise your hand if you thought the false start penalty that wiped out a made extra point and led to one of the ugliest misses on the retry was going to end up costing the Vikings. (Every hand raised in Minnesota at once). Instead of being up 19-16, it remained 18-16. It sure felt like that missing point was going to haunt. But … it didn’t. Thanks, Jacksonville, for being one of the only teams the Vikings could have beaten Sunday with that level of sloppiness.


3. Big-play offense: Sam Bradford was his usual efficient self, but the Vikings also made a bunch of big plays in the passing game after dinking-and-dunking for much of the season. Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph all had gains of 40 yards or more.


4. That score isn’t familiar, but it is: Only four games in NFL history have ever ended with a 25-16 score, and the Vikings have played in (and won) two of them THIS SEASON. The first was in the opener against Tennessee. Apparently playing AFC South teams on the road brings out the weird in the Vikings.


5. A win is a win: An ugly loss is one thing. An ugly win? Hey, you have to take it. And it wasn’t even like this one was aesthetically unappealing. There were just a lot of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot moments that the Vikings, unlike in recent weeks, were able to overcome. They’ll take three more ugly wins any day this season.

Former NBA player weighs in on ‘ignorant’ Mall of America black Santa controversy

blacksantaMall of America recently hired its first black Santa. In the year 2016, one wouldn’t expect that to be anything more than a feel-good story (though, one supposes, in 2016 we should expect anything).

A backlash ensued to the point that the Star Tribune had to shut down online comments on the story.

Sad!

Former NBA player Baron Davis agrees that it’s sad. Davis, you see, is the mastermind behind the Black Santa Company. In a recent piece at The Undefeated, Davis explains it thusly:

For African-Americans, Christmas is probably the biggest time we all get together and feel good about who we are and our families. But it’s also a time where we do all we can to make sure that holiday is fulfilled. For me, if we are going to put that much emphasis on the holiday from a religious standpoint or not, we should have some type of representation, content and brand where someone is speaking for us. Every Christmas has the same Santa Claus and he looks different from us. My argument was there has to be more than one Santa Claus and there has to be a Santa Claus that represents black people.

Davis also weighed in on the Mall of America controversy by saying, “It’s senseless and ignorant for people to try to create negativity out of something that brings people together.”