A leaked report raises questions about when the University of Iowa athletics department knew there were serious concerns about racism and bullying in the football program.
Athletics director Gary Barta indicated at a June 15 news conference his staff received a “wake-up call” earlier that month when past and current football players posted on social media allegations of racism and bullying in the program.
But a nine-page report from the athletic department’s Diversity Task Force, which convened in 2018 and included interviews with student-athletes, staff and coaches, highlighted many of the same issues in 2019.
“One of the key themes was that African-American student athletes do not feel comfortable being their authentic selves (namely around coaches),” the report states. “As one student-athlete indicated, ‘I was told by my coach to change my hairstyle because it did not fit the Iowa culture. I can’t be free. I feel like a slave to the system.’”
That full report was given to athletics officials — including Barta and football coach Kirk Ferentz — in spring 2019, Athletics officials confirmed this week.
But the report, still considered a draft, wasn’t made public until July 19, when Hawkeye Nation broke the story and published a copy of the report online.
The UI released to The Gazette June 25, in response to a public records request, a streamlined, five-page version of the report that had all student-athlete, staff and coach comments stripped out. The UI did not indicate at that time there was a longer version that was made public to athletics officials and others associated with the task force.
Here’s how the university responded when The Gazette asked why we didn’t get the nine-page version:
“The longer report that was leaked to Hawkeye Nation.com is a work in progress since the diversity task force still is active. It is a draft and is marked as such and therefore, is a confidential record under Iowa Code Chp. 22.7 (65). At the advice of our attorneys, your request for the full report is denied.”
Barta mentioned the Diversity Task force in the June 15 news conference, saying the group was created to review graduation rates of Black student-athletes. He said he created multiple initiatives to address the concerns, hiring former player Broderick Binns as interim director of diversity, equity and inclusion. Binns has since been named executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion,
But, he said, public airing of concerns on social media “made it clear to me, and I’m sure others in our department, that the changes we had been making weren’t enough.”
He reiterated during a news conference Thursday that UI officials didn’t do enough at the time.
“We were made aware there were some issues -- we didn’t have all the specifics we have today and we set out a plan to try to work on those issues and get better,” Barta said. “I thought some of the plans we put in place were working. My personal observation was that things seemed very cohesive and very positive. I go back to ‘Were we asking the right questions?’ ‘Were they being frank with us?’ Probably not.”
It’s unclear what role the Diversity Task force is playing in ongoing changes in the UI athletics department.
At the time the report was released, the task force included athletics officials Binns, John Bruno, Liz Tovar, Eddie Etsey, Andrew Francis and Raina Harmon. Other members were Melissa Shivers, vice president for student life and interim chief diversity officer; Jamal Nelson, from the Office of Student Life; Nicole Grosland, faculty athletic representative; and Charles Martin-Stanley, graduate student representative.
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