Report shows Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was aware of racial issues in his program year before players spoke out

Sam Cooper

The Iowa athletic department, including football coach Kirk Ferentz, was aware of racial issues within the football program well before a bevy of Ferentz’s former players spoke out in June about their experiences in Iowa City, a document obtained by Hawkeye Nation shows. 

Iowa’s Diversity Task Force began interviews for a department-wide study into low graduation rates among Black male athletes at the school in fall 2018. The results of the study, presented to the athletic department in spring 2019, showed what so many former Iowa players detailed in June: Black Iowa athletes felt like they were treated unfairly and did not feel comfortable being themselves. 

James Daniels, a former Iowa offensive lineman who now plays for the Chicago Bears, was the first to speak out in June, saying that the Hawkeyes football program needs “cultural change.” He later said the football program has “too many racial disparities” and that Iowa’s Black players “have been treated unfairly for far too long.” 

Dozens of his former teammates echoed Daniels’ sentiments. Some were especially critical of Chris Doyle, Ferentz’s longtime strength coach. Doyle was quickly put on administrative leave and the school parted ways with Doyle, who coached under Ferentz since 1999, nine days later. 

After the allegations came out, Ferentz said an advisory committee would be formed to help shape the future of the program’s culture. Ferentz also admitted that the program “can do more to create a welcoming and respectful environment” for players, and that the changes “begin with me.” A week later, Ferentz admitted to having a “blind spot” to the problems his Black players endured in his program. 

But the document unearthed by Hawkeye Nation shows that Ferentz was briefed on these issues more than a year before so many of his former players spoke out on social media. According to Hawkeye Nation, Ferentz read the full report in 2019:

Ferentz read the full report detailing racial inequities in 2019. Based on that, he initiated some changes before last season. “We allowed [student-athletes] to wear hats, earrings, [and hoodies] but what I learned here is there’s a lot more to it,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got to dig deeper, listen better, and act on things that count.”

A key theme from the report from the Diversity Task Force was that “African American student-athletes do not feel comfortable being their authentic selves [namely around coaches].”

“Many African American students feel as though they have to ‘put on a mask’ or ‘check their identity at the door’ when they walk into athletic related activities [practice, meals, team meetings, etc.],” the report said. “The feeling of the majority of African American student-athletes interviewed was that they are not given enough freedom of expression to be themselves.”

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz is entering his 22nd season in Iowa City. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz is entering his 22nd season in Iowa City. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Report: Black athletes treated differently than white athletes

The summary findings of the investigation showed recurring themes that showed differences in how Black athletes are treated in comparison to their white teammates. They included a “perceived differential in disciplinary measures,” a “perception shown during the recruiting process suggesting a more inclusive environment” and “team policies limiting personal authenticity.”

One athlete told the Diversity Task Force that “the White student-athletes at Iowa are viewed as the standard that African American student-athletes should strive to mold themselves after.” Additionally, Black athletes don’t “feel like they are connected to the support system [team] that recruited them.” Black athletes also said they felt isolated at Iowa, are disciplined more harshly and drug tested more than their white counterparts.

“A number of African American student-athletes interviewed reported that they did not see the ‘Iowa culture’ [i.e., the difference in treatment between African American and White student-athletes or the inability for African Americans to be themselves] on their recruiting trip and if they had, they would have never committed to this university,” the report said. 

The report also pointed out that Iowa staff and administrators “lacked awareness of the experiences of African American student-athletes” and the “lack of diversity among non-coaching staff members, including senior administrators, middle level managers and support staff.”

Last month, Ferentz said during a press conference that he feels like he “let down” the players who spoke out. 

“If you have an environment where players don’t feel like they can bring up an issue, that’s a problem,” Ferentz said June 12. “I feel like I let those players down by not creating that environment where they did feel comfortable and sharing more about their experiences, bringing that to our attention, while they were here. Our coaches feel the same way, and we’re committed to making sure that never happens again.”

Changes recommended in March 2019

In the summary findings of the Diversity Task Force’s report — dated March 29, 2019 — the Iowa athletic department said it was “committed” to instituting policies and practices that “promote diversity, equity and inclusion.”

A series of issues to address, such as the lack of diversity in administration, lack of career advancement opportunities for minority staff and coaches and an emphasis on additional mentorship opportunities for Black student-athletes, were laid out. Additionally, an “action plan” to “create and sustain” an inclusive and diverse campus environment was also recommended with the goal of implementing the changes over a two-year period. 

In June 2020, Iowa brought in Kansas City-based law firm Husch Blackwell to conduct an independent investigation into the school’s football program after the various allegations surfaced from former players. The firm’s report is expected to be submitted by the end of July. 

Meanwhile, Iowa is slated to begin its 22nd football season under Ferentz in the coming weeks.

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