Kirk Ferentz began the week by opening dialogue with his players on the outrage over George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. Floyd’s death launched nationwide protests against police treatment of the African American community.
When the protests began, current Iowa players asked on social media to hear from their head coach. Ferentz listened and answered. He pledged to keep the dialogue going. Wednesday, Ferentz met with media during a video conference call.
He answered a question about Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 protest and kneeling before the national anthem by saying his team could kneel or stand at attention as long as it was a uniform decision.
Ferentz said he was listening last Sunday night and repeated that pledge in a statement released Friday night in the wake of a deluge of social media posts from former African American players for the Hawkeyes.
“I am saddened to hear these comments from some of our former players,” Ferentz said in a statement released on Iowa football’s Twitter account. “While I wish they had reached out to us directly, I am thankful that these players decided to share their experiences now. As I said earlier this week, the best way to affect change is by listening. I have started to reach out to them on individual basis to hear their stories first hand.
“Making change that matters involves open dialogue and possibly some tough conversations. I am glad to have the opportunity to do just that. As a staff and as leaders, we will listen and take to heart the messages we hear.”
When Ferentz’s thought on kneeling during the anthem showed up on social media, former Iowa offensive lineman (2015-17) and now Chicago Bear James Daniels tweeted, “If the team collectively decides to kneel, this will bring about a cultural change for both Iowa football and the state of Iowa which I believe is long overdue!!!”
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Former defensive lineman (2007-11) and former Green Bay Packer Mike Daniels responded, “You know they don’t want to have that convo.”
The conversation ensued on Twitter.
Former offensive lineman (2005-09) and Minneapolis native Rafael Eubanks called Daniels’ tweet “courageous.”
“I forever will be proud to be a Hawkeye and even more today because of your action,” Eubanks wrote. “The same culture that breeds success also does so at the cost to many of its players without acknowledgment or acceptance. ...”
The conversation continued. Daniels’ tweet opened the gates for other former players to speak out. HawkeyeNation.com reporter Rob Howe began a post Friday afternoon, corralling the players’ responses.
Daniels went on to say “There are too many racial disparities in the Iowa football program. Black players have been treated unfairly for far too long.”
Former defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie (2012-16) named strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle in a tweet. This bloomed on social media after Ferentz’s appearance with Scott Van Pelt on Thursday night’s SportsCenter.
“Coach Ferentz is one of the reasons I committed to Iowa as a high school senior. He cares and he gets it,” Ekakitie wrote. “However, for this program in particular, real change beings with @coach_Doyle (Doyle’s Twitter account) and his Strength & Conditioning staff.”
A few more players tweeted about Doyle, who took heat from the public in 2011 after a winter conditioning workout sent 13 Hawkeyes to the hospital with rhabdomyolysis, a condition brought on by extreme workouts that affect the kidney’s ability to clear toxins.
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Stories about being kicked out of workouts emerged. Cornerback Manny Rugamba, who was at Iowa from 2016-17 before transferring to Miami (Ohio), talked about more demeaning actions from Doyle, who’s been Iowa’s only strength coach in Ferentz’s 22 seasons. Doyle also is the highest paid strength coach at more than $800,000 per year.
“I stand with my fellow Hawkeye brothers advocating for cultural shift in the Iowa football program,” former defensive back (2011-15) Jordan Lomax wrote in a tweet. “We were disproportionally represented as a result of black players leaving the program prematurely due to either double standards or the inability of the coaching staff to relate with our culture.
“I have much respect for KF and other coaches on the staff as men of great integrity, principles and morals and I am confident they will have the ability to be part of the solution.
“As my brother @Faith_Joseph (Ekakitie) already mentioned, the change starts in the weight room.”
In summer of 2016, Ekakitie was in an Iowa City park three minutes from where a bank was robbed and suddenly found himself with Iowa City Police Department guns pointed at him.
Ekakitie wrote on Facebook, “I would like the thank the Iowa City Police Department for handling a sensitive situation very professionally. I would also urge people to be more aware of their surroundings because clearly I wasn’t. Lastly, I would urge us all to at least to attempt to unlearn some of the prejudices that we have learned about each other and now plague our minds and our society. I am convinced that in the same way that we learned these prejudices, we can also unlearn them.”
As a response to the players’ statements, Iowa issued Ferentz’s statement at around 9 p.m. Friday. The conversation kept going on social media and certainly will in real life.
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