IOWA CITY — One of the quieter interviews on the Iowa football team has been running back Ivory Kelly-Martin.
The Plainfield, Ill., native had injuries during his freshman year and sat out last year as a redshirt. His interviews have generally been quiet, shy affairs. Not everyone digs having a mic in front of their face.
Kelly-Martin felt free Friday to say whatever he wanted. He said that was a new feeling within Iowa’s Hansen Football Performance Center.
“I’m sure I can speak for a lot of the guys on the team that, yes, it felt like that there was an atmosphere where you did have to look out, kind of watch your back,” Kelly-Martin said. “I mean, you always kind of had to be on your toes at times, but, throughout this week, there’s never been so many conversations that’s been made, there’s been so many people talking about change and, and we’re all, we’re all hopeful that this is actually going to happen.”
Friday was Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz’s first live public appearance since last Friday, when black former players reacted to a tweet about a Ferentz comment that covered kneeling before the national anthem at Kinnick Stadium.
Former Iowa and current Chicago Bear James Daniels retweeted an Iowa reporter’s tweet from a video conference with Ferentz. A week later, some 50 players tweeted out various examples of racial incidents and bullying from the Iowa coaching staff, not just strength coach Chris Doyle.
Doyle, the target of many of the complaints, was played on administrative leave last Saturday. Ferentz declined to comment on Doyle’s status. A review will begin next week, with athletics director Gary Barta leading the group. Barta is scheduled to meet the media next week.
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The team is in the very real process of healing. Ferentz referenced a team meeting on Monday. This is a voluntary workout period, but the entire team is here. Monday’s talks were so positive, the players told the coaches they wanted to meet again and so workouts were canceled. Iowa begins summer workouts June 13.
“The most important steps are when our team came back,” Ferentz said. “That Monday meeting was about as emotional and powerful of meeting as I’ve seen.”
Doyle didn’t attend the meeting and has not been back in the weight room. His son, Dillon, announced via social media Tuesday that he was entering the transfer portal.
“I’ve been here for four years and I’ve seen change every single year,” senior kicker Keith Duncan said. “It’s on us players to make the change. We have the power. This isn’t a one-sided thing. We voiced our opinions and so did the coaches. It was a great opportunity to be candid and get things off our chest.”
Ferentz announced that an advisory committee of 11 former players has been formed, with Mike Daniels, an NFL defensive lineman, set to chair the committee with 10 members.
Ferentz admitted to having a blind spot. He also said the former players he’s spoken with have been very direct and “perhaps gave me a new awareness.”
“It became very apparent to me that we missed an opportunity not having an advisory board,” Ferentz said, “because it became very apparent that they became more free to talk and really share things.”
Iowa also announced its 2020 leadership group on Friday. The 21-member group now includes 12 black players and nine white.
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Of course, there’s work ahead. Many characterizations of Monday’s meeting were about energy and unity. All the coaches were there. There was yelling and tears. Doyle’s name wasn’t the only one mentioned in black former players’ social media account. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, defensive coordinator Phil Parker and linebackers coach Seth Wallace were mentioned.
Did Kirk Ferentz walk out of Monday and Tuesday with a full staff of coaches who could stand in front of the team and lead it?
“Currently? I believe so, and that’s part of my responsibility,” Ferentz said. “We need to make sure all of us can walk into the building and our players have confidence in us and feel that they can function and move forward.”
This isn’t over.
Players can tweet now, and they started in earnest last Saturday. Safety Kaevon Merriweather, of Belleville, Mich., didn’t tiptoe into social media. He tweeted a post that said “If you can’t respect us, stay home.”
Of course, that was attacked.
“I just wanted people to know we are a team that’s connected as one,” Merriweather said. “We expect our fans to be there every step of the way.”
So, the idea of kneeling before the national anthem. That did spike on social media. Ferentz hasn’t made a decision on that, and, of course, the first game is months away.
“It’s got to be a topic we discuss,” Ferentz said. “I think we all realize it’s a very polarizing issue. I’m very confident there are ways to do things, ways to recognize individuals or causes in a way that’s hopefully not polarizing and yet still powerful.”
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