Iowa Football

Former Iowa football players threaten lawsuit, demand $20 million, firing of Gary Barta, Kirk and Brian Ferentz

University of Iowa rejects the demands

Former Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley. (The Gazette)
Former Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Eight former University of Iowa football players are demanding monetary compensation from the school and the firing of Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and athletics director Gary Barta for intentional race discrimination, it was learned Sunday.

The Daily Iowan and Des Moines Register reported the eight former players, all Black, are being represented by Tulsa, Okla., civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who sent a registered letter Oct. 5 to Barta, the Ferentzes and UI President Bruce Harreld with the demands, adding a lawsuit would be filed if they were not met by Monday.

The eight former players are Maurice Fleming, Marcel Joly, Akrum Wadley, Aaron Mends, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Andre Harris, Jonathan Parker and Reggie Spearman.

“Through the program’s pervasive harassment, bullying, policies causing disparate impact, and race-based threats and retaliation, our clients were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to pursue a high-quality education while competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics,” the letter said.

The eight former players also are asking for $10 million from the university for alleged loss of professional opportunities and pain and suffering, as well as an additional $10 million to compensate other former athletes. It additionally demands mandatory anti-racist training for the Iowa athletics department, the hiring of a senior Black male administrator to support Black athletes at the school, the establishment of a “board of advisors” of Black football players and anti-racist professionals to monitor the program, tuition waivers for Black players during Ferentz’s head-coaching tenure who did not graduate and the payment of attorney fees.

“(The Ferentzes) have never had to answer for their extensive roles in creating, developing and taking part in the pervasive culture of discrimination that humiliated and beat down the numerous African-American athletes under their control, profoundly impacting not just their experiences as team members but their overall physical and psychological well-being, and their educations as well,” the registered letter reads.

Iowa sent a response Sunday to Solomon-Simmons on Sunday, The Daily Iowan and Register reported, declining the demands.

“We would welcome the opportunity to visit with your clients to determine their interest in participating in activities that assist in creating meaningful change within the Iowa football program, the Iowa Athletics Department and campus community,” wrote Carroll Reasoner, UI’s Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel.”

Reasoner's response pointed out that Iowa already has begun to implement many of the demands, including naming former player Broderick Binns to the position of Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Iowa athletics.

Barta commissioned an independent report by a Kansas City law firm after many former players came out on social media with accusations of racial bias and bullying within the football program. Strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, the target of many of the allegations, was removed from his position, receiving a $1.1-million settlement.

The independent report found that rules within the program, such as a dress code for everyone entering the UI football facility and a ban on the use of social media, “perpetuated racial or cultural biases.” Those rules since have been relaxed.

During virtual media days two weeks ago, Iowa players expressed satisfaction with the progress being made on issues, with running back Ivory Kelly-Martin adding change was ongoing and would not happen overnight. Brian Ferentz apologized to former players during an in-person coaches press conference two weeks ago, saying he could not recall ever using racial comments.

Running back Mekhi Sargent and wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. publicly supported Brian Ferentz during their respective Zoom media interviews, saying they never have had issues with him.

“We appreciate some former athletes sharing insights on their experience while at the University of Iowa,” Harreld said in a statement to the DI. “Many of their concerns have been reviewed and addressed. And, to be clear, any student-athlete that has left the university and did not obtain their degree is welcome to return, and we are here to support them.

“There are several demands outlined in the letter, and we are proud of the efforts made to date. We have a path forward that includes ideas and recommendations from many current and former students aimed at making the University of Iowa a more inclusive and better place to learn, grow and compete as an athlete. However, the university rejects the demands for money and personnel changes.”

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