Iowa reopens inquiry into abuse of Hawkeye Marching Band

Reversal comes after band members go public with violent details

The Iowa Hawkeyes Marching Band sits in the stands during the first quarter of the college football game between the Iow
The Iowa Hawkeyes Marching Band sits in the stands during the first quarter of the college football game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — After earlier closing an investigation into reports of verbal, physical and sexual abuse directed against the Hawkeye Marching Band last weekend at a football rivalry in Ames, University of Iowa administrators announced Friday they have reopened their inquiry following an outcry from band members who went public with detailed allegations.

“The communication on social media made it clear we had not shared enough information with our students about the steps the university has taken to address the concerns raised by members of our marching band,” UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck told The Gazette in an email Friday.

“Student safety is our number one priority and we are committed to ensuring a safe experience on game day for our students,” she said. “Additionally we are continuing our investigation to ensure all of our students have the ability to share their experiences with the appropriate authorities.”

Deputy Athletics Director Barbara Burke and UI School of Music Director Tammie Walker sent a joint message to Hawkeye Marching Band members Friday afternoon expressing “unconditional support” following a “difficult” week.

And they said UI President Bruce Harreld, Iowa State University Wendy Wintersteen and University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook are “each committed to discussing and adopting a uniform safety protocol prior to next season.”

The message came after The Gazette and other media reported accounts from band members that they experienced racial slurs, verbal and physical sexual harassment and assault, shoves that sent one woman to the hospital, and thrown objects leaving lasting bruises during last weekend’s Cy-Hawk rivalry.

“It got really bad,” said Paige Pearson, 20, a UI junior who has played trumpet in the band for three years and was in the thick of it during the Sept. 14 rain-delayed football game at ISU.


“It was the fans,” Pearson told The Gazette in an interview. “The Iowa State band has been nothing but kind. They’ve reached out to us and said sorry this happened. It was not even the students, but adult fans.”

The specific accounts from band members come in stark contrast to generalized statements about bad fan behavior from the universities’ athletic directors, and to assurances from two university presidents that the incident was already investigated without any repercussions being publicly announced.

But in the Friday message to band members, UI administrators sought to reiterate actions the university has taken:

UI Athletics Director Gary Barta reached out to ISU Athletics Director Jamie Pollard after learning of the incidents; Burke reached out to affected students; officials with the UI Division of Student Life, Human Resources, Athletics Department and School of Music met with the band.

And Harreld and Barta “have been actively engaged in the process and have publicly pledged to ensure better protections for students moving forward.”

‘I was shocked’

Pearson, who was present for the abuse and recounted it as the worst she’s experienced in her time with the band, said multiple band members have bruises from shoving, hitting and being struck by flying items.

Attacks included verbal and physical sexual abuse during the game, Pearson said. One female band member suffered fractured ribs and went to the hospital, she said.

Although some of the incidents occurred during the game, many happened after the dramatic end that gave Iowa the victory after a flubbed play by ISU.

Another third-year band member — Corey Knopp, 21, who plays tenor sax — said he was among those assaulted.


“A fan shoved me out of his way as we were marching in formation back to the buses,” Knopp told The Gazette in an interview. “He decided to cut through the band and shoved me out of his way. I yelled, ‘Do not put your hands on me sir,’ and he yelled back, ‘(expletive) you.’”

It was unlike fan abuse he’d experienced before. “No fan has ever touched me, let alone pushed me,” he said. “I was shocked he actually felt the need to do so.”

Although he didn’t suffer lasting injuries, Knopp said some of his peers did.

“A girl’s ribs are broken because of fan interaction,” he said. “A member of the band was cornered by a number of males and was assaulted.”

Fans pulled at the drum line and attacked members, Knopp said. They threw beer cans and shook and sprayed them at the members’ feet as they marched.

“We expect to be booed and the usual rivalry game antics,” he said. “But never physically and sexually assaulted.”

Fallout begins

Last Monday, Barta released a vague statement indicating his department was looking into “inappropriate actions” directed toward student and staff with the band. Pollard responded Tuesday in confusion, saying he hadn’t been made privy to details.

Pearson said she and fellow members initially were encouraged as higher-ups met with them and listened, indicating “actions will be taken and we support you.”

But then Barta and Pollard released a joint statement saying both the Hawkeye and Cyclone marching bands have been subject to “rude, vulgar, and in some cases violent” conduct at football games in recent years, and it should stop.

Both UI President Harreld and ISU President Wintersteen this week said their institutions were done investigating.


“Gotta love Iowa athletics and the AD,” Knopp wrote on Facebook. “They tell us yesterday they’re investigating the violent acts against us in Ames. They tell us things will change (with no specifics) and they will not sweep this under the rug. They tell us we need to trust them that they have our backs all the way up the ladder.

“Well, come to find out today the University of Iowa and Iowa Athletics are no longer investigating,” he wrote. “People were physically assaulted … No ‘alleges’ or ‘maybes.’ This happened. Put yourself in our shoes. Kids. Marching in formation back to our buses after a long day. Getting shoved and having beer cans shaken and sprayed at our feet. Getting slapped because of the words on our uniform (IOWA). Getting pushed so hard that someone’s (not going to name this person) ribs are broken.

“That is completely unacceptable.”

‘Really lost our trust’

Second-year trumpet player Nathan Topping, 19, from Cedar Rapids, said the band feels abandoned by administrators, who initially seemed fully supportive.

Topping said he was injured by a flying full beer bottle while walking in formation through the tailgating section outside Jack Trice Stadium before the game — leaving him a “nasty bruise” made worse by shoving.

He said he saw more physical and verbal abuse during and after the game that went beyond typical band-fan banter — and members brought their concerns to UI officials.

Band members provided images and evidence. University resource officers outlined their next steps, and Topping said he felt supported.

“All that changed after the statement they released while we were in the middle of our rehearsal,” Topping said. “I had experienced assault and others were injured, and to drop the investigation really lost our trust and support of the Athletic Department at that point.”

UI officials have been mum on disclosing any details of the altercations. Topping and Knopp reported being told earlier this week to “be careful what you post on social media.”


“Today, I no longer care,” Knopp wrote on Facebook. “Thank you Iowa Athletics and the University of Iowa for showing me that when I’m physically assaulted at an away football game as part of the Hawkeye Marching Band, you don’t have my back and you don’t care.”

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