Former African American University of Iowa football players again took to Twitter on Saturday to speak about incidents and insults, with some players describing a disturbing erosion of their identities.
As he did Friday night, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz again reacted. Saturday was for action.
The Iowa football Twitter account released a statement from Ferentz around 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Chris Doyle placed on leave
— Strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle has been placed on immediate administrative leave. Doyle, entering year 23 with Ferentz and the highest-paid strength coach in the country at more than $800,000, was named by many of the players who tweeted on Friday and Saturday.
Former Hawkeye and Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson tweeted: “Coach Doyle is the problem in that building. And so is Brian Ferentz. Things won’t progress until those two fix themselves. They know they’re a problem. KF isn’t. I respect coach (Kirk) Ferentz wholeheartedly. It’s the other in the building.”
Brian Ferentz, Kirk Ferentz’s son and entering his third season as offensive coordinator, wasn’t mentioned in the release.
Along with leave, Doyle is facing an “independent review.”
“He and I agree that all parties will have their voices heard and then a decision about how to move forward will be made,” Ferentz said.
Assistant football strength and conditioning coach Raimond Braithwaite will assume leadership of the program during this period. Braithwaite has worked 16 years under Doyle at Iowa.
Advisory committee created
— Ferentz also announced the creation of an advisory committee, which will be chaired by a former player and comprise current and former players and department staff.
“This will be a diverse group that will be able to share without judgment, so we can all examine where we are today and how we can have a better environment tomorrow,” Ferentz said.
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The Iowa athletics department has been in a process of shifting culture, with a growing movement within the department to enact change. In 2018, Iowa established the “UI Athletic Diversity Task force” to specifically address African American male student-athlete graduation rates.
The movement turned into a directive this weekend, with former Iowa O-lineman and Chicago Bears center James Daniels rallying African American teammates to speak on social media about their time at Iowa.
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in a statement “As part of the process, the task force interviewed current and former student-athletes to better understand our department’s climate toward diversity and the experiences of student-athletes. It was evident at that time we needed to improve as a department. While we have taken several steps to address these issues, there is more to do.”
Twitter ban lifted for current players
— Ferentz has never allowed Iowa players to use Twitter. That also changed and now Iowa players are in the Twitterverse.
“Several days ago the players asked permission to post on social media so they could participate in the national discussion around injustice, racism and inequality,” Ferentz said. “As a team we agreed last Thursday to lift the long-standing ban of players on social media and so you will be seeing them enter the now broader conversation.”
Ferentz will be available for a Zoom meeting with media Sunday afternoon.
Several questions remain unanswered. Mainly, how does Kirk Ferentz’s No. 2 in charge present a pattern of behavior without the head coach knowing what’s going on?
In a 2016 interview, Ferentz was asked “When it’s critique time, who do you listen to?”
“You can’t do it daily, but we have regular schedules where I really try to survey for information (mostly offseason), whether it be the staff, our players, support staff, on a multitude of topics,” Ferentz said. “Then, as you might imagine, I have daily conversations with certain people. Chris (Doyle) has been the one common denominator throughout the whole thing, from start to finish.
“That’s one of the things I really value. Beyond his expertise of coaching, Chris, not that we’re the same, but we were schooled the same, the same school, I guess. Both of us have a common denominator with Joe Moore. We’re constantly exchanging ideas. Probably everybody has somebody like that throughout their careers. And it is unique, we’ve both been here awhile now, so we’ve seen the same history. Maybe I know something he doesn’t know or he knows something I don’t know about certain experiences he had, but there’s a lot of common ground there. He’d be the first guy.”
As Ferentz said in Saturday’s statement, Doyle is on administrative leave, which takes him out of the program for the review to proceed. A decision will be made, Ferentz said.
All day Saturday, black and white Iowa players, former and current, tweeted. There was some disagreement, but mostly the players supported each other in telling their stories.
Maurice Fleming didn’t tweet, but he sent a text to Daniels, who posted it to Twitter.
Fleming came to Iowa in 2012 from the Austin neighborhood in Chicago, an area that saw 29 homicides in 2011.
“Being a part of the program was detrimental to my mental health,” Fleming wrote. “ ... No longer was it about playing the game of football, being at Iowa during my four-year tenure, I developed a self-hate. I knew being a prideful black young man would cost me certain opportunities that I felt I deserved.”
Fleming ended up transferring to West Virginia in 2016.
Former safety Geno Stone, a Newcastle, Pa., native who was chosen by the Baltimore Ravens in April’s NFL draft, said, “It shows the problem in society today where African Americans can’t be themselves in their own skin because they are afraid they won’t be given certain opportunities so they’re changing who they are.”
And Amani Hooker, a Minneapolis, Minn., native who left Iowa after 2018 and is now a safety for the Tennessee Titans: “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.”
Kirk Ferentz told his team last weekend “Change will begin with us.” In Saturday’s release, he pointed the finger at himself.
“As I told the team earlier this week — I am a white football coach. Teaching is what I do best. But it is also important to know when to be the student,” he wrote. “ ... These are painful times. As a leader you can learn a lot by listening but then you must take action. Finally, I told the team that change begins with us, but truly change begins with me.”
Kirk Ferentz era captains
Here’s a survey of season captains during Kirk Ferentz’s 21 seasons at Iowa.
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One thing to keep in mind with these numbers is they are affected by overall attrition. Fewer black players make it to the point in their Iowa careers where they can be considered for captain.
— 103 captains: 76 white (73.8%), 26 black (25.2%), 1 Polynesian (Tongan) in Ferentz’s 21 seasons.
— In 21 seasons, two have had more black captains than white: 2002 and 2003. Both teams had three black captains out of five.
— In the last three seasons, there have been 11 white captains (84.6%), two black.
— Since 2010, 36 captains have been white (76.6%), 11 black.
Leadership group in last 10 years
In 2019, Iowa named 19 student-athletes to the 2019 Leadership Group, with 18 seniors and one junior in the group.
From Iowa’s website: The purpose of the group is to assist in formulating policies and being involved in team decision-making throughout the year. Players are selected by a team vote.
— In the last 10 years, 70.9% of the leadership group has been white players (106 of 148), while 27% has been black players (40 of 148).
— In the last five years, 76.9% of the leadership group has been white players (50 of 65).
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