By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz will be distracted by more than just a global pandemic as the Iowa football team finally enters game week in preparation for the 2020 season opener.
The accusations of racial disparities that plagued the program throughout the summer, and that caused the dismissal of Chris Doyle as strength and conditioning coach, have taken on a new form, and the timing couldn’t be worse with Iowa set to play Purdue in the much-anticipated season opener on Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind.
Eight black former players, according to reports in the Des Moines Register and the Daily Iowan, are demanding the removal of head coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, and Athletics Director Gary Barta, claiming they were subjected to intentional race discrimination by the coaching staff and administration during their time as Hawkeyes.
Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons sent a letter on behalf of the eight players to UI President Bruce Harreld, Barta, and both Kirk and Brian Ferentz on Oct. 5 in an attempt to “amicably resolve” matters before filing suit, according to documents obtained by both the Register and the Daily Iowan.
The eight former players being represented are Akrum Wadley, Aaron Mends, Jonathan Parker, Marcel Joly, Maurice Fleming, Reggie Spearman, Kevonte Martin-Manley, and Andre Harris.
The group gave the UI until Oct. 19, which is Monday, to respond before filing suit in a court of proper jurisdiction, in addition to filing a discrimination complaint to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.
So in addition to having to prepare for Saturday’s season opener, the 65-year old Kirk Ferentz now has to deal with this disturbing and embarrassing development.
The eight former players, according to the reports in the Register and the Daily Iowan, are also seeking a payment of $10 million for their “loss of professional opportunities” and the “pain and suffering” they said they experienced at Iowa, as well as a $10 million fund to compensate other athletes for the “discrimination and ongoing severe and pervasive acts that constitute intentional discrimination.”
The remaining demands in the letter are:
*Mandatory “anti-racist” training for all athletic department coaches, staff, and personnel on an annual basis.
*The implementation of a senior Black male administrator position to support Black athletes at Iowa.
*The establishment of a board of advisors consisting of Black football players and “anti-racist” professionals to monitor the program and the coaching staff.
*Tuition waivers for any Black athletes who attended Iowa during Kirk Ferentz’s 22-year tenure and did not graduate with a degree.
In the UI’s written response sent to Solomon-Simmons on Sunday, which was obtained by both the Register and the Daily Iowan, Carroll J. Reasoner, the university’s Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel, declined the group’s monetary and personnel demands.
“We would welcome the opportunity to visit with your clients to determine their interest in participating in activities that assist in creating meaningful change within the Iowa football program, the Iowa Athletics Department and campus community,” Reasoner’s letter says.
The Register and the Daily Iowan both also published a statement from Bruce Harreld addressing the demands in the letter.
“We appreciate some former athletes sharing insights on their experience while at the University of Iowa,” Harreld said. “Many of their concerns have been reviewed and addressed. And to be clear, any student-athlete that has left the university and did not obtain their degree is welcome to return and we are here to support them.
“There are several demands outlined in the letter and we are proud of the efforts made to date. We have a path forward that includes ideas and recommendations from many current and former students aimed at making the University of Iowa a more inclusive and better place to learn, grow and compete as an athlete. However, the university rejects the demands for money and personnel changes.”
Based on Harreld’s response, the UI Athletic Department could be headed for yet another potential costly lawsuit.
Whether you agree with the eight players, or feel that they have hijacked a noble cause for their own personal gain, the damage already is done from a public relations standpoint.
These eight players obviously feel they were mistreated as Hawkeyes, and that there should be serious consequences.
It’s a horrible look for the Iowa program, and it could have serious consequences in areas such as recruiting.
A Kansas City law firm investigated the Iowa football program in response to the accusations of racial disparities and then issued a report in late July that said the football program adheres to a philosophy that mandates conformity and discourages individualism.
Doyle already had reached a separation agreement before the investigation was conducted, but no other personnel changes have occurred.
Brian Ferentz recently met with the media for the first time since the accusations were made public and he apologized to any player who feels he had a negative experience as a Hawkeye.
“Our goal is very simple; it’s for every player that comes to our program to have academic success, to graduate with a degree from the University of Iowa, to have personal success and to grow and mature as a human being,” Brian Ferentz said. “And then, of course, to have success on the football field as part of a successful team and having a good individual career.
“That should be a positive experience for everyone that comes through our program. They should never feel anything but respected and valued as a human being. If for any player who a had negative experience in our program, for any player who did feel valued or respected at a human level, I am deeply sorry, and I offer a sincere apology.”
It felt like Brian Ferentz was trying to move forward and put this controversy behind him, but it won’t be that easy, nor should it be.
Some of the current black players also have described a new attitude, and a more inclusive culture that now exists as a result of the changes that have occurred.
But these eight former players are upset, and resent how they were treated as Hawkeyes, and they want satisfaction, and they don’t seem interested in the changes that have occurred.
The problem is do they want too much satisfaction to where it almost seems like unreasonable vengeance?
It would be unfair, foolish, and quite frankly, racist, to dismiss the accusations of racial disparities because too many former black players have spoken out.
Former Iowa center James Daniels launched the movement by sharing his feelings about racial disparities on Twitter in early June.
Daniels obviously wasn’t motivated by money, considering he starts on the offensive line for the Chicago Bears after being selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Daniels was motivated by wanting his alma mater to change for the better.
Daniels had tried to address his complaints privately, but he apparently wasn’t satisfied with what he heard from UI officials.
So he finally went public, and here we are six days until the season opener and this story just keeps getting uglier.
It isreasonable to think that the eight players were mistreated at Iowa, but that they also might be trying to use this controversy for personal gain.
You could argue that their demands, and the potential law suit, would have more credibility, sympathy and support if the eight players weren’t asking for $10 million in lost potential professional earnings because Akrum Wadley and Maurice Fleming are the only ones among the eight who even came close to making an NFL roster.
Some will accuse the players, fair or not, of trying to do a money grab out of frustration for not making it professionally, and for blaming Kirk Ferentz and Brian Ferentz for their failures.
Others will counter by saying that to accuse the players is being racist, and that’s a fair statement, too, because the players feel they were mistreated due to the color of their skin.
The fact that eight former black players are willing to go this far with their protest has created a serious problem for Kirk Ferentz, and for the Iowa program as a whole.
Five of the eight players being represented left Iowa with eligibility remaining, and without graduating, and that’s points to another problem with the culture under Kirk Ferentz. Too many black players are leaving the program disgruntled and without having graduated.
Kirk Ferentz is scheduled to have a zoom conference with the media on Tuesday, and it’s almost certain that this topic will come up, and rightfully so, because it’s a serious topic.
Ferentz will be limited in what he can say if the law suit is filed on Monday, but the questions still have to be asked.
And that will cause a distraction at the worst time.
It’s sad, and unfortunate that eight former black players are so upset with how they were treated as Hawkeyes that they are willing to take these drastic measures to try to get satisfaction.
Martin-Manley is Iowa’s all-time leader in career receptions with 174, while Wadley is fifth in career rushing at Iowa with 2,872 rushing yards.
Their success makes it hard for some fans to understand, or sympathize with what is now motivating Wadley and Martin-Manley, besides a chance to make money.
And that’s a shame because this movement started as a way to make positive and necessary changes within the Iowa culture.
But now it’s gone way beyond that, and it could get worse before it starts getting better.