Iowa Football

Iowa defensive back Kaevon Merriweather finds he isn't alone on an island

Player had sharp words for Iowa fans, but got less backlash than he expected

Iowa football player Kaevon Merriweather speaks Friday during a press conference at his team's practice facility in Iowa
Iowa football player Kaevon Merriweather speaks Friday during a press conference at his team’s practice facility in Iowa City with head coach Kirk Ferentz in the background. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — He has just one career start, but redshirt sophomore safety Kaevon Merriweather became a voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes football team recently, and in a way that would have seemed unimaginable a week or so earlier.

It was extraordinary, really. From being a member of a team barred from using Twitter by its coach, Merriweather used his newfound freedom to tweet to put out a statement that basically would have been a resignation from the team in weeks and years past. Because it would have been denounced and punished.

“If you can not support us right now with this movement and with our team taking a knee during the national anthem, DO NOT support us during the football season,” said a statement Merriweather attached to a tweet last Monday. “DO NOT watch our games on TV. DO NOT come up to us when you want photos. DO NOT ask us to give your kids autographs. DON’T COME TO US EXPECTING US TO DO FOR YOU WHEN YOU CAN’T SUPPORT THE BLACK ATHLETES ON THE TEAM AND THE DECISIONS WE MAKE AS A TEAM. I would rather play in front of 1,000 fans who care about us as people outside of football and what we are standing for, than 70,000 fans who only care about us when we are in uniform and are on the field entertaining them.”

As of Saturday morning, the tweet had over 800 comments, 3,300 retweets and 17,500 likes. Some of the comments were predictably critical.

Like “I will turn in my tickets, not watch on TV and quit making contributions to the U of I if you take a knee at the national anthem. I’d rather the ungrateful athletes leave and preserve the program I’ve been supporting and proud of for 30+ years.”

And “I can promise you a kid isn't telling a grown man who has had season tickets longer than you’ve been alive anything. This isn't how you get folks on your side.”

But what Merriweather quickly learned is a lot more of those who responded were supportive. Including voices that may have been inclined to chew him out not that long ago.

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Like “I served over 20 years so AMERICANS could be free to do things like this! I am with you and all my Hawkeyes!!”

And “You and your @HawkeyeFootball teammates have the full support of this Hawkeye fan, Iowan and Army Veteran. I served to protect and uphold the Constitution ... which includes your right to free speech. I have never, and will never, be offended by someone kneeling in protest.

And “Long-term fan and ticket holder here appreciating your words and standing in full support of the Iowa Hawkeyes making their voices, silenced for far too long, heard. Thank you. White fans, listen to our Black athletes! We have so much to learn.”

A couple things here before anyone gets too bent out of shape:

One, it’s still Kirk Ferentz’s program, he still insists on unified actions by his players inside Kinnick Stadium, and if they make one about racial injustice on Sept. 5 at their season-opener, my guess it will be something less offensive to those who are more prone to being offended.

Two, that game is almost three months away. We don’t know with certainty that college football will be played that day, nor how many fans will even be in the stadiums if the show goes on.

The anthem thing isn’t at the point of what’s been going on inside the Hawkeyes’ football complex over the last 10 days. Instead, it’s the apparent sea change within Iowa’s program. Former player after former player — nearly all of them African American — made statements that reflected poorly on how Iowa coaches related to them as people. Some of the things they told us were beyond cringeworthy.

Current players, by their accounts and Ferentz’s at a press conference on the team’s practice field Friday, said team meetings held earlier in the week were raw and emotional. Ferentz had three players speak to the media, Keith Duncan, Ivory Kelly-Martin and Merriweather.

Compared to the recent history of the program, it also was extraordinary that eye-of-the-hurricane Merriweather was put out front and center instead of banned from talking publicly until further notice. But the times, they are a-changin’.

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The edge on Merriweather’s message wasn’t as sharp when he spoke Friday as opposed to his written statement of a few days earlier. His feelings, however, remained the same.

“The statement was really for all our fans, the Iowa community,” Merriweather said, “to let you all know that our team, we are together as one. We expect our fans to be there for us every step of the way and we want you all to support any decision that this team has made.

“We haven’t decided on kneeling or not, that’s not what I said. If we do decide, any movement we do decide to support, any step that we do decide to make as a team, we want you all backing us every step of the way. Not just on the football field, but also off the field when we’re in class, when we’re walking the street, when we’re driving our car. We want your support day-in and day-out.

“That’s really what that post meant.”

He said that as his head coach stood less than 10 feet away, not wincing once.

“Certain things just tell you, they show you that you need to (allow) players to have more freedom, more expression,” Ferentz said. “Really, the issue is do you trust them?”

Ferentz called his previous Twitter ban for players “a stupid policy.” He explained “its designed intent was to help protect our players. That’s a parental instinct, a coach’s instinct. You want to protect your players.”

It wasn’t an evil policy, it just wasn’t a good one. Iowa has long boasted about the character of its players. Letting them reveal it is the way to go.

“We trust these players,” Ferentz said. Maybe his players will trust their fans more than before, too.

“Honestly,” Merriweather said, “I expected to get a little bit of back of backlash, but the support from the Iowa fans was truly amazing.”

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“Amazing” is right about the way everything has unfolded for Hawkeyes football in June 2020.

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

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