Public Safety

Vandals tag Kinnick with spray paint after former players decry racial bias

A graffiti covered Kinnick Stadium, including the statue of Nile Kinnick, is seen late Saturday after protesters passed
A graffiti covered Kinnick Stadium, including the statue of Nile Kinnick, is seen late Saturday after protesters passed through. (Lily Smith/Freelance)
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IOWA CITY — Vandals struck Kinnick Stadium — and the statue of legendary Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick — as well as parts of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as protesters swept through the area late Saturday.

The spray painting came just hours after Iowa Hawkeye football Coach Kirk Ferentz and athletics director Gary Barta announced an independent, external review of the football program following social media posts from some African American former players, calling the program a culture of racial inequality.

Strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle was placed on administrative leave Saturday night after some of the former players singled him out on Twitter.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek published a photo of the vandalism on his personal Facebook page Saturday night, showing people huddled around the Nile Kinnick statue in front of the main entrance to Kinnick Stadium.

“So very sad tonight. Vandalizing the U of I hospital and Kinnick stadium,” Pulkrabek’s post read. “And now spray painting the statue of Nile Kinnick.”

Kinnick in 1939 won Iowa’s first — and so far only — Heisman. During World War II, he served as a pilot detailed to an aircraft carrier in the Caribbean. In June 1943, he crash-landed in the sea and was killed.

His family initially balked at the idea of naming the UI stadium after him, saying he should not be singled out among the many who made sacrifices in the war. The family later relented to calls for the facility to honor him.

The 20-foot-tall bronze statue went up in 2006.

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On Sunday, athletics and university facilities staffers — along with members of the public — worked to remove paint from all tagged locations, according to athletics spokesman Steve Roe.

Although some people did get the inside Kinnick, “There does not appear to be any damage to the inside of the stadium,” Roe said.

Another UI athletics spokesman, Damian Simcox, said everything was cleaned up in a matter of hours. The cleanup crews — which also included former Hawkeye football players — got to work about 11 a.m. and finished by 2:30 p.m.

It was “a great Hawkeye effort,” Simcox said in an email.

Vandals also spray painted outside the UIHC emergency room, main hospital buildings and UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. The damage was limited to graffiti.

UIHC assured patients, visitors, faculty, and staff that safety and security measures are in place to ensure its facilities remain accessible, regardless of any protests that might occur.

Those measures include limited and controlled entrance points and more visible security — which already was dialed up due to COVID-19 and the hospital’s spread-prevention efforts. Additionally, due to the coronavirus, only staff, patients and approved visitors are allowed in UIHC facilities.

“We wanted to reiterate that it is safe and that we will have security staff to make sure it stays safe,” UIHC Chief Executive Officer Suresh Gunasekaran said in an interview Sunday.

“Even if these things are going on, it will not shut down UIHC,” he said. “You can safely get your health care.”

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Protests have taken place in Iowa City for nearly a week, calling for change in policing after the death of a Minneapolis man, George Floyd, while in police custody there. Thousands were in attendance at protests throughout Saturday.

Former Iowa football players took to Twitter to express feelings toward the vandalism at Kinnick Stadium, including former defensive tackle Carl Davis, former defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, former wide receiver Tevaun Smith and former running back Akrum Wadley.

Davis later tweeted he and Johnson would head to Iowa City to help clean up the paint.

State Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, tweeted Sunday morning that fans should be more upset about the experiences endured by black Hawkeyes than the spray paint at Kinnick Stadium.

Comments: (319) 398-8372; alexandra.skores@thegazette.com

Vanessa Miller of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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