Iowa Football

For Iowa football, time to change the mold

'Bullied and demeaned' must cease and depart

University of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz discusses findings of the independent review of issues of racial dis
University of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz discusses findings of the independent review of issues of racial disparities in the program during a news conference at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Part of Husch Blackwell’s review of University of Iowa football’s culture stated this:

“In sum, the program’s rules perpetuated racial or cultural biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity. The program over-monitored players to the point that they experienced heightened anxiety and maintained a culture that allowed a small group of coaches to demean players.”

A sales pitch to recruits, that ain’t.

Many of the current players interviewed by the Kansas City firm said positive changes have been implemented in Iowa’s program and are “cautiously optimistic” that the coaching staff is listening to their concerns and being genuine with them. That’s the best takeaway from all this.

If those current players are one day former players who say they have no complaints with how they were treated by their coaches as humans, something good happened. Late isn’t great. But it’s better than never.

Here’s a side effect I’d like to see from the push for change in the Iowa program. How about letting Hawkeye football players truly be able to be themselves?

It’s always been clear over the last two decades that they aren’t supposed to be personalities, that they’ve been instructed to stay within certain lanes. Conform, conform, conform. The report said a coach agreed the concept of fitting the “mold” can “very much alienate individualism.”

That’s been an Iowa football thing and a football thing in general, primarily from the college level on down. It’s always been an irony that football is by far our most-popular college sport. It is housed and supported by universities, which are supposed to foster independent thought, freedom of expression, and the growth of individuals.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

While I like watching both sports, I prefer covering college basketball to college football. Most college basketball coaches don’t muzzle their players, and those players generally feel comfortable saying whatever it is they feel inclined to say.

That’s the case at Iowa. Basketball player Jordan Bohannon has publicly stated how he feels about the NCAA and how he feels college athletes should be able to make money off their names, likenesses and images.

His coach, Fran McCaffery, says good for Bohannon and other players for speaking their minds, and leaves it alone. Had Bohannon been an Iowa football player and done so — well, he couldn’t have without repercussions until last month.

Maybe it’s just the nature of basketball, a more-intimate game by nature. Football dominates television ratings, yet most of the most-recognizable and popular American athletes of the last few decades have mostly been basketball players.

On an NBA telecast Thursday night, TNT analyst and former NBA and college coach Stan Van Gundy said he’s never seen a jockey carry a horse across the finish line. Meaning, the players are the thing.

Thursday, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said “I’ve prided myself on running an NFL-style collegiate program, if you will, which means position coaches have autonomy and freedom to develop the curriculum and the coaching style that they choose.”

But it isn’t a program that has treated players the same way NFL coaches treat theirs, which is as adults. If any NFL coach made the kinds of racially insensitive comments to a player that former Hawkeye players said were made to them by Iowa coaches, there’d be an instant mutiny and/or fight. The player would still be on the team the next day while the coach wouldn’t.

The story about the independent review of Hawkeye football was mentioned in a bite-sized summary Friday morning in a news-update portion of the Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on ESPN Radio.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“An external review of the Iowa football program revealed an environment where many Black players felt bullied and demeaned, and recommended Coach Kirk Ferentz and Athletic Director Gary Barta take steps to improve the culture,” was the entirety of the item.

So that’s not great. However, former Hawkeye James Daniels started this firestorm in early June, and here is a tweet he sent on Friday:

“So much positive change within the Iowa football program and athletic department! It is amazing to see!”

If you took Daniels seriously two months ago, and you should have, then his most-recent public sentiment should carry weight, too.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.