By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Maybe I should have seen this coming.
Or maybe I did see it, but either dismissed it, ignored it or convinced myself that it was no big deal.
I wondered why Josey Jewell and Nate Stanley represented Iowa twice at Big Ten Media Day, while black players and multi-year starters such as Akrum Wadley, Anthony Hitchens and Greg Mabin never were chosen to attend the annual event.
I couldn’t understand why Kirk Ferentz called tight end Noah Fant a specialist.
I thought that prohibiting the players from wearing ear rings while being interviewed by the media was too controlling and rigid, and aimed more at the black players.
I questioned to myself why more than three-fourths of Iowa’s team captains are white, why most of the players that Iowa sends to Big Ten Media Day are white, and why such a high percentage of black players are transferring from the program.
I remember taking a closer look at Iowa’s roster in the 2010 Orange Bowl media guide and counting 60 white players compared to just 27 black players.
But I justified the difference by reminding myself that the University of Iowa is located in a state in which the population is more than 90 percent white.
So I did nothing.
I just accepted that Iowa’s roster was usually about two-thirds white, because, well, it’s Iowa, and it’s always been that way.
The breakdown of Iowa’s Leadership Group also caught my attention because it has been dominated by white players.
For example, the five Leadership Groups from 2015 to 2019 had 59 white players and just 21 black players combined. The 2017 Leadership Group had the fewest blacks with just two among the 18 players.
But again, I did nothing.
And while it’s true that the players vote for the Leadership Group, Iowa’s roster is usually about 60-to-70 percent white, so it’s basically been a case of white players empowering white players.
I never asked Kirk Ferentz why the Leadership Group had so few blacks or why a player of Wadley’s magnitude and with his charisma didn’t get picked for Big Ten media day.
I just accepted it as life as a Hawkeye under Kirk Ferentz, but that life has forever been changed, ever since former Iowa center James Daniels exposed on Twitter the racial disparities that have festered within the Iowa program for years.
More than 40 former Iowa players have since shared their grievances on social media and now Ferentz is dealing with one of the biggest controversies in program history.
Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle is currently on paid administrative leave after being singled out by numerous players as the root of the problem.
The Iowa players are back on Twitter with no restrictions.
Iowa’s 2020 Leadership Group was announced on Friday and 12 of the 21 players picked are black.
And an advisory board consisting of 11 former players, and led by Mike Daniels, is being formed.
Ferentz hopes to turn one the saddest and most disturbing times in program history into a movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 25th in Minneapolis.
Iowa’ 64-year old head coach held a press conference on Friday and updated what has occurred over the past week since players have started returning to campus during a global pandemic.
Iowa players Kaevon Merriweather, Ivory Kelly-Martin and Keith Duncan also were made available to the media on Friday.
“As you know, there were serious and troubling comments by many former players about their experience while they were on our team,” Ferentz said. “And it comes during an important time in our nation’s history.
“With what happened to George Floyd, and the world-wide reaction to his death, I think it’s giving all of us a better and deeper understanding of what racism and bias is. It’s already I think begun, initiative for real change. As a team, and as a program, we have a responsibility and a tremendous opportunity at this moment.”
The players and coaches instead of practicing this past Monday held a team meeting that Ferentz described as powerful, raw, emotional and heated at times.
But it was also productive, and maybe even a turning point, which was the message from Ferentz and from the three players on Friday.
“Throughout this week, there have been so many conversations that’s been made and so many talking about change and we’re all hopeful that this is going to happen,” Kelly-Martin said. “These last couple days in the weight room, and outside on the field, we can all tell that there’s a clear difference between how it is now and how it was then.”
One of the biggest changes this week is the absence of Doyle, Iowa’s veteran strength and conditioning coach, and an original member of Ferentz’s staff.
Ferentz said early in Friday’s press conference that he wouldn’t comment about Doyle’s situation because it is currently being investigated by an independent review.
But the three players made multiple comments on Friday about how much better the environment is now, but without ever mentioning Doyle’s name.
Friday’s press conference seemed to be more proof that Doyle’s days are likely numbered at Iowa.
The players spoke on Friday as if they’ve already moved on without the highest paid strength coach in college football.
“We’re able to be ourselves when walking around the weight room,” Kelly-Martin said.
Everybody associated with the Iowa football program, from the players and coaches to the media, has learned from this unfortunate story that continues to evolve.
I’ve learned that when something looks suspicious that maybe there is something to it.
Of course, I now have the power of hindsight impacting how I feel.
But without it, I did nothing.
I took what could be perceived as subtle signs of racial disparities and found ways to explain or justify them.
I ignored the low graduation rates for black players, and by doing so, I became an enabler.
And for that, I am truly sorry.