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(Reuters) - Vanderbilt University's football team apologized for tweeting on Thursday "we don't need your permission," a phrase that raised concerns about its attitude toward sexual assault two years after four former players were first accused of rape.
The full tweet, which has since been removed from the team's Twitter account, read: "We are relentless, tough and intelligent and ..." above a graphic that read, "We don't need your permission."
"We apologize for today’s tweet. It’s not a comment about sexual assault. Sex without permission is always wrong and not accepted," the team later said on its account.
Former Vanderbilt football players Cory Batey, Brandon Vandenburg, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie were charged with raping an unconscious woman in June 2013.
Batey and Vandenburg were convicted of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery in January but the conviction was set aside because a juror had fail to disclose that he was himself a rape victim, according to court documents. Prosecutors have said they would ask for a new trial.
The other two ex-players are awaiting trial.
In light of the accusations at the school in Nashville, Tennessee, and heightened scrutiny of how U.S. colleges respond to sexual assault on campus, the reaction on social media was swift and harsh.
"It’s tone-deaf, offensive, and ill-advised. I can’t comprehend that no one in the Vandy athletic department realized that," one follower tweeted.
Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee