Iowa's Kirk Ferentz: 'Concept of teamwork ... has eroded a little bit in our country'

Football coach encourages more communication in divisive society'

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CHICAGO — Kirk Ferentz has a bully pulpit that stands higher and stretches farther than nearly every public figure in the state of Iowa.

Most of the time, the Iowa football coach narrows his comments to his sport or its many tentacles. But don’t mistake Ferentz for a simple football wonk who dismisses life outside of the Hawkeyes’ complex. Ferentz is well-versed on a range of topics, from pop culture (to an extent) to politics (more than he lets on).

Last week, Ferentz was asked about an incident involving Iowa City police officers and football player Faith Ekakitie. Minutes after a bank robbery in Iowa City, officers with guns in their hands stopped Ekakitie at an Iowa City park. Ekakitie matched the suspect’s description and was wearing headphones. He didn’t hear the officers’ instructions. But instead of the situation escalating, both officers and Ekakitie kept their cool and prevented a tragedy.

The situation prompted Ferentz to relay his thoughts on the incident and nation’s divisive rhetoric and widening culture. Here’s what he said at Big Ten media day:

“Nationally we all could learn from the way (Ekakitie) handled it. On an even larger scale and to the point what I’ll share with the team, I think nationally we could all learn a lot. The thing about sports is, life isn’t fair. We all know that. Society is not always fair. But one of the great things about sports is it’s one of the fairest places you can be as a coach or as a player. For players, they get a chance to get an education, which is such a great thing. To be 18, 19, 20 and get an opportunity to get a degree and also compete and get judged on what you do academically, what you do athletically. I tell our guys all the time as you get older in life, it’s not always going to be that fair. So, enjoy these moments. Relish them. But also learn, if you will, to build a resume and do those kinds of things, you’ll have an opportunity to do a lot of things in life.

“I think what’s lacking in our society right now is an ability or a willingness to listen to the other side. We’ve got a lot of sides right now, but people don’t want to talk or share ideas. The concept of teamwork, I think, has eroded a little bit in our country. We’re still, by far, the best country in the world. Teamwork is so critical in sports. It’s so critical in your family, I think in any successful organization.

“We’re in an election year so everything gets amplified. There’s a lot of negativity right now. I got in at the tail end of this but I think the ‘60s and the ‘70s, I got there right after the Vietnam and all the civil rights that took place. I think those are some of the most challenging times in our history to be educator, a parent or a coach. I think we’re in an era similar to that. I think we all need to talk to each other a little bit more and listen a little bit more, too.

“I’m a coach and as a parent, I see the good in people. I see the good in young people, certainly. Sometimes you’ve just got to bring it up. It all starts with talking and sharing ideas.”

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