IOWA CITY — Amani Hooker’s name and image are on an outer wall of Kinnick Stadium, part of the celebration of the glories of the University of Iowa’s football program.
Hooker was the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year in 2018 and had a big role in the Hawkeyes’ first two victories of their current three-game win streak in bowl games.
The $1.1 million that now-former Iowa football strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle settled for Monday from the University of Iowa was paid for largely by Hooker and so many other Iowa players of the present and recent past.
The mythology of Hawkeye football in the 21st century is built on the molding and toughening of the players by their on-field coaches and Doyle. You know the feel-good story. They came here as chunks of coal, left as diamonds formed by pressure.
Like much mythology, there’s ample truth in that and a lot of those players are the first to say so. One of the easiest things possible is finding a former Hawkeye who credits his own progress to Doyle. But mythology also omits or overshadows certain details.
Such as, without those players enduring the years of the strain and the pain, you’ve got nothing. Such as, those players didn’t exactly show up at the Iowa football building without reservoirs of talent and desire. Such as, fans pay significant money to be entertained, and the entertainers are the players, not the strength coach or any coach.
Hooker entertained us. He was a premier college player. He helped win games. He made money for his program. And, the help he got from his coaches and from Doyle and his strength and conditioning staff surely helped him become a good enough player to now be employed by an NFL team. But he, more than anyone, made it happen while his strength coach was the highest paid at his job in college football.
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Hooker, by the way, is the same person who tweeted this on June 5:
“I remember whenever walking into the facility it would be difficult for black players to walk around the facility and be themselves. As if the way you grew up was the wrong way or wasn’t acceptable & that you would be judge by that and it would impact playing time.”
He tweeted this two days later: “These stories (from African Americans who were former Hawkeye players) are new to everyone but for the players we have heard/seen these far too many times. Trust me this is the last thing we want to be doing. To many really good players that have never touched the field on Sat. because of how they were treated around facility.”
Those comments were two of so many from ex-Hawkeyes in this mythology-shattering month. Doyle was placed on administrative leave, then this workweek began with him settling with Iowa for seven figures. There was no way he could come back, and no way the university wanted him to sue and cause this story to fester for perhaps years.
Iowa athletics’ recent record in the courtroom isn’t nearly as good as the one its football team has enjoyed on the playing field.
You may recall former UI field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum received $1.5 million in a 2017 settlement for lost wages and emotional damages three years after she was fired by Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta in 2014 following allegations she had exhibited abusive behavior toward her players, though a university investigation found no violation of school policy. Two lawsuits led to total of $6.5 million going to Griesbaum, former Iowa senior associate athletics director Jane Meyer, and their attorneys.
The number of student-athletes whose allegations prompted Griesbaum’s firing was but a sliver of the number that have publicly made negative comments and accusations about Doyle and other Iowa coaches, including head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.
“Coach Doyle is the problem in that building,” former Hawkeye Jaleel Johnson of the Minnesota Vikings tweeted. “And so is Brian Ferentz. Things won’t progress until those two fix themselves.”
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James Daniels, another Hawkeye-turned-NFL player, added “Jaleel is right, change needs to start with those two.”
One could wonder if more Iowa coaches than just Doyle would have been put on leave last week had they been coming off three consecutive 5-7 seasons rather than three straight bowl triumphs.
Thank you, those coaches might want to tell Hooker, Daniels and their Iowa teammates of the last few years.
Barta said what some might consider all the right things at a Monday news conference. He wept while discussing racism in American society in general and, in how it has affected some of his professional colleagues. He cited the ways the football program is trying to right wrongs, how it is trying to open channels of communication and assure safety for its athletes, how its foundation remains strong.
A Kansas City law firm has been hired to do an independent investigation into the “racial disparities” of the football program. If the report contains nothing incendiary, life on Melrose Avenue probably returns to something close to normal before long.
Wait. Normal? Uh uh. The football team has reconvened for workouts in Iowa City during a pandemic. Two of the 109 COVID-19 tests administered by the Iowa athletics department from June 8-14 came back positive, and other schools’ athletics programs have announced higher positive totals than that.
The games will still go on, at least until they become untenable. Which remains a distinct possibility. For now, though, the Hawkeyes and their major-college football brothers are too big to fail even when they fail big. The Big Ten has given us enough examples of that in this century.
The buck stops here, Barta basically said Monday. OK, good. But the bucks the football programs make for so many people who aren’t playing in the games, they don’t stop for anything. Yet.
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