CEDAR RAPIDS — Some Iowa Hawkeyes football players will kneel for the national anthem Saturday at Purdue to call attention to racial inequality and social justice.
We don’t know how many, just that Tyrone Tracy Jr. will be one of them.
“I will kneel,” the junior wide receiver confirmed Tuesday, during a Zoom interview with reporters. “It’s very big to me, personally, just because I know how African Americans are treated in the United States.”
Head coach Kirk Ferentz confirmed that players will have the option to kneel or stand for the anthem. The team’s leadership group met with him three different times to talk about it.
The football program, of course, was the subject of an independent investigation to look into accusations by former and current players of racial inequalities and bullying during Ferentz’s 22-year tenure as head coach. Strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle lost his job, albeit with a $1.1-million settlement, and the investigation found that program rules “perpetuated racial or cultural biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity.”
Ferentz has committed to change the program’s culture, and it is changing, according to players. Part of that change apparently is allowing them to kneel if they wish.
“Me taking a knee (will) show and let everyone know what I stand for and what I believe in,” Tracy said. “That is what I believe in. I do think we should (realize) a lot of different things (are) going on in the world that need some change. I think, this organization, we are going in the right direction. I think we are taking steps to provide change.”
“There has been a lot of valuable dialogue and discussions,” said junior defensive back Julius Brents. “It has been very beneficial, especially for our team, too. Things that may not have been discussed in the past are definitely being discussed now. I can say we are moving in the right direction.”
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Ferentz said the anthem discussion included input from a pair of military veterans. One was dead set against kneeling, the other was a 20-year Navy SEAL who felt having the freedom to kneel in a show of protest against a perceived injustice was why he fought.
“When it comes home to our leadership group, the discussions I listened to and participated in on three separate occasions were extremely impressive,” Ferentz said. “Everybody was respectful of everyone’s opinions. I’m convinced right now we will see a variety of stances taken by our team. But I can tell you also from what I heard in three separate meetings, everyone is very respectful of each other, no one is judging each other, nobody is taking roll or any of that stuff. They’re being a good team, acting like a team should. I’m extremely impressed with how the guys have handled it.”
“Obviously my opinion is my opinion, and I think everyone is going to respect everyone else’s,” said Iowa linebacker Nick Niemann. “There is nobody that is right or wrong. Just with everything that happened this offseason, I think we’re just focused on listening and understanding other people and respecting them. Whatever guys do, that is their choice.”
Tracy stressed that though some guys will kneel and some won’t, there will be unity.
“We are a team, and we are all going through this together,” he said. “So on Saturday, the players will have the option. If they want to kneel, they’ll kneel, and if they want to stand, we’ll still hold hands or have our hand on their shoulders. I’m almost positive everyone is not going to do exactly the same thing. But, at the same time, we are still a team and are going to go out there and look unified as we (each) choose what we do.”
Media was told prior to Ferentz’s Zoom press conference that the coach would not and could not speak about a pending lawsuit filed by a civil rights attorney representing eight former Iowa players who allege intentional race discrimination. Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons is asking for Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and athletics director Gary Barta to be fired and for the school to provide $20 million in repunitive damages.
Iowa’s general counsel responded by saying the school would not cede to the demands. Solomon-Simmons responded late Monday night with a statement saying his firm looked forward to “vindicating our clients’ rights and holding all wrongdoers accountable in court.”
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