When University of Minnesota football players boycotted practice because they didn’t approve of how fellow players were being treated by the University during a sexual assault investigation, head football coach Tracy Claeys took to Twitter to praise them lavishly:
“Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world.”
There were a lot of problems with that tweet. Coach Claeys presumably didn’t have all the facts, yet, by making the “better world,” comment, he seemed to be siding with the accused over the accuser. He was publicly crossing his bosses, University Athletic Director Mark Coyle and President Eric Kaler, who did have the facts. Importantly, he expressed no concern about the seriousness of an extremely disturbing allegation.
Both in terms of football and morals, Claeys was following his players instead of leading them. A strong moral and football leader have tweeted something more like this to the community and these emotional young men:
“Until we learn the facts about these disturbing allegations, we’re going to be students & players, not administrators. Back to practice men.”
Don’t take sides on the investigation. Don’t side with the accused over the accuser, or vice versa. Don’t undermine your bosses facing a difficult decision. Don’t allow your players to dictate when they will and won’t choose to practice or play.
If Coach Claeys would have chosen something like those 140 characters to lead instead of follow, he would have had some young men angry at him. That happens to leaders. But he would have taught his young players and the rest of the student body an important lesson about how to act and lead during a time of uncertainty. He would still have the respect of his university and community. He would still have a chance to rebuild the reputation of the program that was so badly damaged by his entitled players.
But Coach Claeys chose a very different 140 characters on Twitter, and the characters he chose prove that he is not the right person for that very difficult job. For that, he has no one to blame but himself.