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Another unsettling settlement, courtesy of the University of Iowa’s athletic department
This time, the public helps foot the bill after a discrimination lawsuit is settled to the plaintiffs’ liking
As the model citizens you and I are, we’re delighted to pay our taxes.
I kid, I kid. But pay them, we do. We understand education, human services, public safety, health care, safety net programs — they come under the umbrella of vital stuff we need and expect.
When I hear I have to join you Iowans in kicking in to help pay roughly half of a $4.2 million settlement to end a discrimination lawsuit brought by former Hawkeye football players against the University of Iowa, that doesn’t sit as well.
Especially when we’ve heard over and over about the self-sufficiency of the UI’s athletics department. The department pays its own freight, we’re told.
Except when it doesn’t.
I’m not extra-inclined to help pay for a lawsuit settlement when it’s the athletics department’s fourth in the last nine years, to the total of almost $11 million.
Whether the latest had merit is conjecture. But you can’t start a fire without a spark. Which came in June 2020 when Black former Hawkeye players publicly described what they saw as inequalities and indignities they felt they endured within the program. Most of those ex-players weren’t involved in the lawsuit, by the way.
Chris Doyle, the program’s strength and conditioning coach of 21 years, was the top target of the complaints back then. Doyle reached an agreement with the UI to step aside from his job shortly after the stuff hit the fan. That was after he secured two buyout payments totaling $1.1 million and full health benefits for 15 months.
Doyle, head coach Kirk Ferentz, and assistants Brian Ferentz and Seth Wallace were dropped from the lawsuit days ago, as was Iowa athletics director Gary Barta. The university and the state’s Board of Regents remained defendants, thus the state’s involvement in the settlement.
Iowa’s State Appeal Board voted 2-1 Monday to accept the settlement. Yes-voter Roby Smith, Iowa’s state treasurer, said it was the obligation of the state to pay judgments against the state departments out of the state treasury.
The no-voter, state auditor Rob Sand, stood with those of us who feel the taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for any of it.
“Why would we agree to it?” Sand said. “How are we helping them understand that this is not acceptable when we agree to it? How are we helping discourage future discrimination that can really disrupt and injure peoples’ lives as well as cost taxpayers money when we agree to it? I would have needed to take a shower if I had voted for it.”
Sand said his guess is it wouldn’t have gone to trial in any case, that the athletics department would have just covered the entire $4.2 million.
Before his vote Monday, Sand said he was voting no if the settlement didn’t include the removal of Barta. He called Barta Friday to let him know.
Sand’s reason: “This is the fourth settlement under Barta.”
Though Smith voted to settle, he said “I would encourage the university to reexamine its relationship with not only Gary Barta, but Brian Ferentz and others named in recent lawsuits.”
That was strong. Who are those “others named” Smith referenced, by the way?
Whether he deserves it — and he certainly may — Kirk Ferentz didn’t get the clean bill of health he sought for his program. He said so in a news release of his own Monday.
Ferentz included a list of allegations plaintiffs made that they subsequently recanted. He apparently was ready to go the distance in the lawsuit. His employer and the state’s Attorney General’s Office said no.
A trial pitting football coaches and some of their former players would have made quite a show, wouldn’t it? But someone usually blinks first.
Like in 2017, when a total of $6.5 million went to two former UI athletics department employees and their lawyers. Those settlements of lawsuits asserted discrimination against former Iowa field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and former UI associate athletics director Jane Meyer. At least they weren’t on our dime.
It seemed like Barta must have had friends in high places to survive that storm. One wonders if he can weather this one, and if he should.
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