The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 24, 2013

Hoffner takes dispute with MSU to ESPN

By Dan Nienaber
The Free Press

MANKATO — A fired Minnesota State University football coach, who has been fighting through his union to get his job back, has taken his case to television.

ESPN announced Friday that its "Outside the Lines" program will air a story on Todd Hoffner, who was fired from his job at MSU earlier this month. He lost his job as head coach in August after he turned in his university-issued cellphone for repairs.

An information technology employee found nude videos of Hoffner's children on the phone, which eventually led to the phone being turned over to Blue Earth County sheriff's investigators and Hoffner's arrest at his Eagle Lake home Aug. 21.

He was charged with producing child pornography, but the charges were eventually dismissed by District Court Judge Krista Jass.

A video teaser available on the Internet suggests the ESPN program will focus on the impact the situation has had on Hoffner and his family. It is scheduled to air 8 a.m. Sunday.

ESPN's news release also said a story about Hoffner will be in the issue of ESPN The Magazine that will be on newsstands May 31.

"I couldn¹t believe it," Hoffner is quoted as saying in the news release. "I watched the videos and I¹m like, come on. They¹re laughing; they¹re singing; they¹re playful; they¹re having fun. I just didn¹t see the magnitude of arresting somebody for that. I couldn¹t see it."

On the video, Hoffner said he felt ostracized after he posted a bond for his release from jail and before the charges were dismissed. He said he went straight from the jail to his son's football game in Mankato. The reaction by other parents at the game wasn't positive.

"You would have thought I was an ax murderer," he said on the video.

His wife, Melodee, said the situation also has been difficult for her and the children. When she's in public, people ask her questions or just look at her.

"My family has been through a nightmare," she said in the news release. "We will never recover to the point where we were before. Our life isn¹t ruined. We won't let it be ruined from this, but it has changed."

The voice of Patrick Reusse, Star Tribune sports columnist, also can be heard on the teaser. He describes Hoffner as a victim, saying the university and prosecutors wouldn¹t have taken his case as far as they did if it hadn't been for the Penn State scandal involving Jerry Sandusky. The former Penn State assistant football coach had been found guilty of child molestation about two months before Hoffner was escorted off an MSU practice field by university officials.

Before Hoffner¹s case was dismissed, Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Mike Hanson described the two short videos as being lewd. Court documents said the children were exposing and touching themselves in front of the camera.

After watching the videos herself to consider Hoffner's motion to dismiss the case, Jass disagreed with Hanson¹s assessment.

"In fact, none of the children¹s actions are age-inappropriate," Jass said in a written explanation of her order dismissing the case. "They acted as any child, acutely aware of his/her nakedness, would act, playful and silly."

She also said the videos were protected by Hoffner's First Amendment rights.

Hoffner was on paid administrative leave while the criminal case was pending. He did not return to the job after the charges were dismissed at the end of November. A month later the university announced he had been reassigned to an administrative role with in the MSU Athletic Department.

The university confirmed Hoffner had been taken off the payroll earlier this month. The Inter Faculty Organization, the union representing Hoffner, responded by saying Hoffner had been fired by the university and he would be fighting the termination.

No information about why Hoffner was fired can be released by the university until the appeals process is completed, and then it can only be released if the termination stands.

If Hoffner chooses to resign or the university is required to put him back on the payroll, the state's Data Practices Act will not allow university officials to release what led up to the firing.

University officials have confirmed there were two complaints filed against Hoffner and investigations into the complaints have been completed.