IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tyrone Tracy Jr. was among five Iowa football players that met with the media on Tuesday at Kinnick Stadium as sort of a summer update.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz also met with the media after the session with his players had ended.
The players answered questions for about 30 minutes, and while I tried to get quotes from all of them, I kept returning to Tracy’s interview because I was intrigued by what he had to say.
Especially when the subject shifted to the controversy from last June when multiple former Iowa black players accused the program of racial disparities.
It was a stain on a program that for so long under Kirk Ferentz had been considered a culture to admire and to emulate.
Tracy, a junior receiver from Camby, Ind., was outspoken a year ago as the story broke and he still is outspoken about the issue of race.
However, what Tracy said Tuesday was encouraging, and more proof that Iowa is moving in the right direction.
When asked how things are now compared to a year ago, Tracy painted a very clear picture in describing how the atmosphere within the facility has gone from feeling like a house to a home.
“It feels way better,” Tracy said. “I had a talk with some (recruits) last week and they asked me the same question. I basically told them it was more of a home than a house. When you’re at home, you’re comfortable and you kick your feet up and you can walk around knowing that you’re not being judged.
“But if you’re in a house, you’re kind of in a corner and you don’t really want to speak up and talk. That’s kind of how it was. It was a house before, and now it’s more like a home.”
Tracy credits the Iowa coaches for helping to lead the change from having a house to a home.
“The coaches, they’re more open,” he said. “It’s open-door policy. If you want to talk to them about literally anything, it doesn’t have to be football related. You can talk to them about life. They’re not there just to be coaches. They’re to be father figures and they’re to be mentors, and they understand that. ”
If there is one positive to come from this embarrassing controversy it’s that the players are more unified and understanding of each other. The black players feel more comfortable, and are more able to be themselves without being judged.
“I think that the big thing is that the players’ bond is way closer now than it was before,” Tracy said. “And I think that happened over last summer when we had very deep conversations about the situation and what was going on.
“Everyone’s feelings were being poured out and it was kind of eye-opening, and people kind of understood what everyone was going through and how we were feeling and what the minorities were going through. Because to be honest, some of the white players on the team didn’t see it until we actually said something about it.”
Tracy said prior to the accusations that black players stayed silent mostly out of fear, and because they just assumed that the atmosphere within the Iowa program was typical of most programs.
“The minorities on the team didn’t really want to speak up because we were thinking this is just how college is and when you come on campus at first when you’re a freshman, you don’t want to speak because you’re a freshman,” said Tracy, who is expected to be one of Iowa’s top receivers this season. “You just got here and you don’t want to be that guy on the team that’s causing trouble and stuff. So you just go with it.
“But in reality, it wasn’t right.”
Tracy said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has become way more serious about the racial aspects in the wake of the accusations.
Ferentz has seen his image tarnished by the accusations, and he also lost his right-hand man, and close friend, when former strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle reached a $1.1 million separation agreement with the university barely two weeks after the accusations were made public.
“I think coach Ferentz takes it way more serious than he did before just because he didn’t know how serious it was before,” Tracy said. “So now, even if it’s little, he’ll take that head on and go talk to whoever he needs to go talk to.
“But, I honestly, think that then open-door policy is the best decision the coaches have made just because the players feel more comfortable with the coaches, and the coaches feel more comfortable with the players. And that’s how bonding happens. And once you have bonding, that’s how a family should feel.”
Kirk Ferentz had an open-door policy before the accusations of racial disparities were made public, but Tracy said it felt much different than it does now.
“It was very scary I could say just to go in there and talk to coach Ferentz just because he wasn’t the type of guy you wanted to go in there and have a conversation about back home,” Tracy said. “You would rather go talk to your friends about that.
“But right now, he’s made it very clear that people can actually come in there and talk to him. You don’t have to be nervous or anxious or anything. You can just go in there and have a conversation and he won’t judge you. He won’t look at you sideways or anything. He’ll talk to you like a man and he’ll give you advice.”
Kirk Ferentz was asked Wednesday if the racial unrest from last summer has been detrimental to recruiting.
“I think it’s something that we’ve had to make sure that we address,” he said. “And I feel like we have a very healthy program. Not to go down that road too far, but we’re not the only place in the country that’s having this discussion. I would imagine a lot of them are talking about things that are very prominent and have been very prominent since that time.”
Ferentz encourages recruits to talk with the current Iowa players to get a feel for how things are now because the players have the best insight, and the best feel for how the culture has changed.
What Tracy said on Tuesday was a step in the right direction, and shows that the environment within the Iowa football program is changing for the better.
But there still is much work to be done, because as Tracy pointed out, a culture doesn’t change over the course of a year. It takes time to change an unconscious bias.
“To change, for me personally, I think change is reoccurring,” Tracy said. “Like last year, when (coach Ferentz) said he was going to change it, he did it. But now you have to be consistent over time. He’s been consistent this past year. That’s okay.
“But you told me you were going to do that. Now you’ve got to be consistent when I’m not here in four years, or in ten years. That’s how you change the culture around here.”