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Tyrone Tracy’s personal growth helps Iowa football change for the better
Tracy works with teammates on details, leads DEI board and Bible studies
IOWA CITY — A trip home is a tantalizing teleportation into your past self, but for Iowa junior wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr., it’s one of the many opportunities he has to show who he is becoming.
Dressed in a suit and bow tie, Tracy leaned into the mic answering a variety of questions at Big Ten Media Days on Friday, from his name, image and likeness deals to how he’s led the team through its racial reckoning.
“You really don't understand how grateful I am to be here,” Tracy said. “I know this is a business trip, but I know talking to you guys is a really blessed situation.”
This past spring, Tracy spoke candidly on how disappointed he was in not only his performance, but also the low number of opportunities he had last season on the field. But he also emphasized his refocused vision and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz took notice.
“Tyrone's all about the team, and he's got a really positive energy,” Ferentz said. “Historically, if we have guys that are going to help us score touchdowns, we try to get them the ball in an intelligent way. We envisioned him to be that kind of player, but also that kind of leader and you can't force it.”
As the leading veteran wide receiver primed to be a top target on the offense this year, Tracy traveled to Texas this summer to train with coaches who work with players like Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott on footwork and how to become a better athlete.
Back at Iowa, he’s practiced other intricate details of his game, like one-handed catches with sophomore wide receiver Desmond Hutson and chemistry with junior quarterback Spencer Petras.
“Obviously, we don't try one-handed catches on purpose in the game, but you always want to be prepared,” Tracy said.
The work isn’t limited to the field. Tracy is showing fans more of who he is while also instigating change within the Iowa locker room. And those go hand-in-hand.
That began last summer, when Iowa football players were given permission to tweet. Tracy’s first tweet after a two-year hiatus was his new profile picture, which honored George Floyd and painted former police officer Derek Chauvin as an evil caricature kneeling on his neck.
A few days later, Tracy said there was a “new wave coming,” and to “give love to get love.” He became one of the leading voices about the racial disparities in the Iowa football program while also providing the national context.
“With Twitter, you are allowed to go on there and post certain things that you probably couldn't post three years ago,” Tracy said. “I can let fans know that I'm not just a football player. I’m an actual person with feelings and a personality.”
That’s important in establishing his brand in the new era where he’s able to profit off his name, image and likeness.
Twitter is how he advertised his autograph signing, which took place on July 18, alongside junior running back Tyler Goodson and junior defensive back Dane Belton at Graze Restaurant in Iowa City.
But the event did not go without internet criticism, where fans argued that $20 was a steep price for an autograph. Tracy said he understood the critique, but also said that NIL is a new opportunity they’re merely learning to navigate and hopes the next signings will be better.
He also plans to launch a line of apparel with a personalized logo a week before the first game of the season.
Tracy’s activism isn’t just his brand, though. It’s something he’s still doing within the team. He said that Ferentz established a diversity, equity and inclusion committee where members of the team can meet to talk not just about racial relations within the team, but also in the world. He’s one of three members on football’s DEI committee that reports to Ferentz on a regular basis.
“Me, (Dane) Belton, Kaevon Merriweather and Ivory Kelly-Martin talk to Coach Ferentz probably once a month to make sure if there are any changes that need to happen,” Tracy said. “I think he tried to make sure that we all feel at home and safe.”
That includes being a resource for prospective athletes to reach out about any concerns.
“Any questions they have, I give them the 100% truth,” Tracy said. “We did have some racial issues, but we definitely have turned that around. When people come visit Iowa, you will feel like it’s a home instead of a house.”
Tracy hopes that his activism will continue into his professional career, saying that the NAACP is an organization he hopes to benefit in the future.
He’s also using faith to connect with his teammates. He started a Bible study, which Petras now regularly attends. As locker buddies, Tracy said that he and Petras are together 90 percent of the time, because the more they bond off the field, the better he feels they will be on it.
Petras is working on hitting Tracy’s routes when he’s in stride, so Tracy can extend plays. Tracy takes the same approach with Petras as he does with improving his performance and the culture of his team.
“If he doesn't get it, we do it over,” Tracy said with a smile.