After multiple former players spoke out last month about instances of racism and bullying, an inquiry found that a culture of racial bias and bullying has persisted within the Iowa football program.
ABC News reports that the University of Iowa hired Husch Blackwell law firm to interview 111 former and current players. Their review found that while the program, led by head coach Kirk Ferentz, promised a family atmosphere during the recruiting process, once they arrived at the school they found it to be anything but. Black players felt that the program “was built around the stereotype of a clean-cut, white athlete from a Midwestern background,” and that rules regarding tattoos, du-rags, jewelry and even certain haircuts were racially biased. While the coaches argued that the rules were meant to encourage a “professional appearance,” the Black players felt it singled them out.
Black players also acknowledged incidents where they felt they were given harsher punishments and that there were double standards at play. They were discouraged from kneeling during the anthem, even though white players were able to wear “Make America Great Again,” hats and presented President Donald Trump with a jersey during a campaign event in 2016. The culture was so toxic that multiple players and staff members echoed the same refrain to investigators: “If you make it through the Iowa football program as a Black player, then you can do anything.”
Ferentz, who has been the program’s head coach since 1999, has since issued an apology as a result of the report. “I want to apologize for the pain and frustration they felt at a time when I was trusted to help each of them become a better player, and a better person,” Ferentz said in a statement. “This review brings us face-to-face with allegations of uneven treatment, where our culture that mandated uniformity caused many Black players to feel they were unable to show up as their authentic selves.”
Last year, as a result of racial bias concerns being raised by the athletic department, Ferentz eliminated the rules regarding jewelry and told the coaching staff not to comment on player’s hairstyles and tattoos. After a meeting with the players in June, Ferentz removed even more personal appearance rules and eliminated a ban on the players’ Twitter usage.
Additionally, the school parted ways with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who many players alleged was the source of the majority of the mistreatment, allegations Doyle denies. Doyle was awarded a $1.1 million severance during the process.
The University has received four confidential reports from the firm on current and former staff members who players allege demeaned, bullied and verbally abused them. University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld has said that those allegations will be addressed with the staff members, all of whom have not been publicly named.