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Culture change in Iowa football must start with Kirk Ferentz

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TO CLOSE
The Iowa football coach talks on June 3 about his role in combating racism and police violence, and what he is trying to learn.

Hawk Central

The stories shared in recent hours describe disturbing racial disparities in the Iowa football program.

The stories continued to come on Friday evening. One after another after another.

More came on Saturday morning.

One by one, the former black football players in Iowa felt the freedom to finally publish stories and feelings that they had kept private for years and, in some cases, for more than a decade.

Akrum Wadley, the program’s greatest defender of all time, said he was asked if he was going to rob a bank or liquor store because he was wearing a Nike face mask issued by the team by a cold day.

Former linebacker Laron Taylor said strength and fitness coach Chris Doyle asked him once if he was “gangbanged” during the off-season.

Former defender Terrance Pryor said after suffering a late season injury that Doyle insinuated that he should try rowing rather than football before saying, “Oh wait, black people don’t like boats in the water, right? “

Many players have denounced a culture of inequality in the way white and black players are treated. Former ball carrier Toren Young tweeted, “If you’re a black player, you quickly learn to conform to Iowa’s white (building) culture. And if you don’t, you won’t (do) very long. ”

There are dozens of similar posts that describe or imply racially motivated decisions disguised in Iowa culture. Many posts explicitly identify Doyle – the right arm of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz for 21 years and the highest paid coach in college football – for harsh treatment of all players, especially those of color .

Former defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, now with the Minnesota Vikings, has detailed many cases of racial inconsistency that he witnessed as a five-year defensive tackle from 2012 to 2016. He and the United States offensive lineman Chicago Bears James Daniels, who played Iowa from 2015 to 2017, were two of the most prominent voices to suggest that Doyle and attacking coordinator Brian Ferentz – the head coach’s eldest son – need to change.

“Coach Doyle is the problem in this building. And Brian Ferentz too, “Johnson wrote on Twitter. “Things will not progress until these two are repaired. They know they are a problem. KF is not. I respect (Kirk) Ferentz with all my heart. They are the others in the building. ”

Daniels added, “I wouldn’t be in the league without Coach Doyle and BF. But Jaleel is right, the change has to start with these two. “

Yet to date – and we’ve seen that these things can escalate quickly – I have yet to see a former player call for the dismissal of Doyle or anyone else.

This too is revealing.

The cry is for the change that begins in the heart.

This is something Iowa defensive line coach Kelvin Bell, who is black, hinted at our radio show Wednesday night. This change begins with education, from young to old. What Bell described that night and what players are describing now is something they’ve always known: that systemic racism is prevalent in our society.

What is sad and disappointing is that so many black athletes have found that it is also prevalent in a football program at a public university – the one that claims to be progressive.

Another question I’ve heard a lot in the past 24 hours: why speak now?

The short answer: because black Americans see more openness to listen to the white majority of the nation, while passionate demonstrations continue to resonate in our state and our country following the frightening death of George Floyd under the care of a Minneapolis police officer.

Former ball carrier Marcel Joly answered the question by referring to former teammate Derrick Mitchell Jr., a black player who he claims was treated unfairly in Iowa and was killed in a car crash. car in October. Said Joly: “This is nothing new !! If not now? Then when! “

Comments by Felicia Goodson, the black mother of early Iowa defender Tyler Goodson, indicate that not all black players have a negative experience of Iowa. In an interview with the Registry on Saturday, she was “worried” but said that her son was comfortable attending voluntary training which begins in Iowa City on Monday, under the supervision of Doyle. She believes in Kirk Ferentz’s ability to lead change.

“She is a very good person,” she said. “I think if they give him the chance, he will fix it. He will overturn it. “

Still, there will be questions about the guilt of the head coach. As a Facebook article wrote, Kirk Ferentz is disconnected from his assistant coaches or has turned a blind eye.

Neither option is good.

At a minimum, however, Doyle has been described as someone who operates with intimidation – Johnson showed him that he was walking on players’ fingers as they warmed up – with racial overtones that he may or may not realize . This is unacceptable. Doyle should be put on leave while the staff of sports director Gary Barta is investigating. The allegations against Brian Ferentz are not as serious, but a suspension would be the right message given the Ferentzes’ father-son relationship.

Doyle did not respond to a text message requesting comment; reached by phone, Brian Ferentz declined to comment.

As I wrote in several columns earlier this week, white leaders with influence and power must fight racism and eliminate it from their operations. And it starts in this case with Kirk Ferentz, whose statement on Friday evening missed the mark in one way but was encouraging in another.

“I am saddened to hear these comments from some of our former players,” said Ferentz’s statement. “Although I would have liked them to contact us directly, I am grateful that these players have decided to share their experiences now. “

Pause.

Ferentz should realize that black players have not reached out directly because they describe an environment where such concerns were not viewed as welcome. Cue Diauntae Morrow, a defensive back of the 2008 team which was then transferred to Toledo. He tweeted an incident in which Doyle threatened to send him “back to the ghetto” and after expressing his dissatisfaction with the team, Morrow said he was suspended and Ferentz told him he was not online.

“Doyle is relaying messages for KF,” continued Morrow. “KF is by no means innocent. “

Return to Ferentz’s statement on Friday.

“As I said earlier this week,” said Ferentz, “the best way to influence change is to listen. I started to contact them individually to hear their stories firsthand. Making a change that matters involves open dialogue and perhaps difficult conversations. I’m glad to have the opportunity to do just that. As staff and as leaders, we will listen and take the messages we hear to heart. “

This is the change that former players want.

I spoke with a black player on Friday night who spent five years in the Hawkeye program. We talked for over an hour about what he experienced and saw. When the conversation ended, he said he didn’t want to be quoted … that he and other former players wanted to insist on the culture change in Iowa. Their motivation is not to tear down a program that many still love.

“It is oppression. That’s it, “said the player. “It is not blatant racism. I don’t think they understand. ”

Eyes and ears open.

It is a necessary starting point in this difficult conversation.

I’ll close with something Goodson’s mom mentioned on Saturday after spending much of the past 24 hours interacting with former players (and their parents) who have spoken. It expresses a vision of change which, we hope, can be adopted by all.

“I think what we’re seeing is,” I can’t keep my mouth shut. “They’re the ones trying to change the world around us,” said Goodson. “My hope for these players who have gone out … is that it will not fall on deaf ears and that it has not been done in vain. That Coach Ferentz and the staff will create a better culture with the environment and even the Iowa City community. “

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered the sport for 25 years with the Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.



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