By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tyrone Tracy Jr. will have more on his mind than just trying to win a football game when he steps on the field for Saturday’s season opener at Purdue.
Iowa’s junior receiver told reporters on a zoom conference on Tuesday that he will kneel during the National Anthem, which is held just minutes before kickoff.
“It’s very big to me personally,” said Tracy, who is from Camby, Ind. “I know how African-Americans are treated in the United States, so me taking a knee isn’t just like for show. It’s to let everyone know what I stand for and what I believe in. That is what I believe in.
“I do think there is a lot of different things going on in the world that needs to change. And I think here and in the organization, I think we are going in the right direction. I think we’re taking steps to provide change.”
Tracy’s decision to kneel will almost certainly draw criticism and ridicule from some fans, but he doesn’t seem to care.
His mind is made up, and he represents a new culture, and a new attitude, that is being built within the Iowa program in response to numerous former black players having complained publicly about being mistreated as Hawkeyes.
Tracy said Tuesday that he expects the players to both kneel and stand during the National Anthem. He also said the players will be unified despite having different views on whether to kneel of stand during the National Anthem.
“I’m not certain what everyone is going to choose,” Tracy said. “Everyone has the free ability to choose out of the options, either you’ll kneel or stand.
“I’m almost positive that everyone is not going to do the exact same thing. But at the same time, we are still a team and we’re still going to out there and still look unified as we choose what to do.”
The key takeaway from what Tracy said is that the players will have the option to either stand or kneel during the National Anthem, and that is clearly an example of how things have changed within the Iowa program in response to the accusations of racial disparities.
Eight former black Iowa players also are demanding the removal of Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and Athletic Director Gary Barta, claiming they were subjected to intentional race discrimination by the coaching staff and administration during their times as Hawkeyes.
The players also are threatening to file a $20 million lawsuit if their demands aren’t met.
Iowa already has said in response to the demands that it will not make any personnel changes or agree to pay any financial compensation.
In this case, UI officials are refusing to budge, and apparently are willing to risk having the matter settled in court.
But in other ways, UI officials, including Kirk Ferentz, are willing to budge, and be more flexible because they really don’t have a choice anymore.
Imagine the fallout and the public relations disaster if Kirk Ferentz prohibited his players from kneeling during the National Anthem.
Ferentz declined to comment on the law suit during a zoom conference on Tuesday, but he had plenty to say about how his team reached a mutual decision to allow players to either stand or kneel during the National Anthem.
Ferentz credited a Navy Seal who recently spoke to the team for having a major impact on the decision.
Ferentz also had shared with his players a letter written by a veteran who felt strongly that nobody should, kneel during the National Anthem.
But it was the Navy Seal’s perspective that left the biggest impression.
“In his mind, it’s all about Americans being their authentic selves and doing what they feel is best and stay true to their beliefs,” Ferentz said. “And in his words, that’s what people like him fought for, so our country can enjoy the liberties and freedoms. They’re very unique to our country.
“So as it comes home, our Leadership Group and the discussions I listened to and participated in on three separate occasions were extremely impressive. Everybody was respectful of each other’s opinions, and I’m convinced right now that we’ll see a variety of stances taken by our team.”
It now seems obvious that Ferentz has lost some power and influence as part of the fallout from the accusations of racial disparities.
The National Anthem didn’t become a hot topic until after the former black players made their accusations about racial disparities.
Former Iowa center James Daniels launched the movement in early June by responding to a post on Twitter about whether the Iowa players would be allowed to kneel during the National Anthem.
Daniels said there were racial disparities in the Iowa program, and he made his remarks barely a week after George Floyd had been killed in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death led to protests throughout the country, and it eventually seeped into the Iowa football program.
Chris Doyle lost his job as Iowa’s strength and conditioning coach because of the accusations, while Kirk Ferentz has lost some of the control he has over his players.
It is no longer Kirk Ferentz’s way or the highway on certain matters.
The black players, instead of having to conform to what some have described as the Iowa way, are now being allowed to express themselves individually, and to be themselves as part of the new racial initiatives.
“Things that may not have been discussed in the past are definitely being discussed now,” said sophomore defensive back Julius Brents. “I would say we’re moving in the right direction.”
Brents and Tracy were among six Iowa players who participated in the zoom conference on Tuesday.
Sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras also participated in the zoom conference as he prepares to make his first start on Saturday, but he declined to say if he will stand or kneel during the National Anthem.
“I’m not sure whether we will be out on the field for the anthem,” Petras said. “I don’t know how we’ll do it because there is no set in stone kind of schedule for away games.
‘But you’ll have to wait and see on Saturday.”