IOWA CITY — Gary Dolphin will be back in 2019 as the radio play-by-play voice for Iowa football and men’s basketball. After his second suspension this season, he pledges a more considered and educated Gary Dolphin next year.
Speaking during a news conference Wednessday, the 22-year veteran of calling Hawkeyes sports expressed contrition over the latest issue. Dolphin was suspended for the remainder of the season after referring to Maryland basketball player Bruno Fernando, who’s black, as “King Kong” during the postgame last Tuesday night.
Dolphin will officially return for Iowa’s spring football event.
Since the incident happened, Dolphin, 67, said he heard from multiple African American friends and acquaintances. It wasn’t all “It’s OK, Gary, you’ll be back.” There was admonishment.
“To a person, they called to let me know that they understood what I said and what I was trying to do,” Dolphin said. “They still support me and like who I am, but several were disappointed in the analogy. That caused me to pause. ... My conversations with my African American friends really struck a nerve with me. Even though we might think we know everything about race relations and insensitivities, you’re learning every day.”
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said he supported the decision to suspend Dolphin, who’s an employee of Hawkeye Sports Properties, which is a subsidiary of Learfield IMG College. The fact that Dolphin is a Learfield employee had HSP and the University of Iowa working collaboratively on the issue.
The issue of “unconscious bias” was part of Dolphin’s initial statement of apology. Barta was aware of that term and the topic. He’s seen athletes from underrepresented groups feel pain over unintentional and confrontational racial episodes.
“I have had years of unconscious bias training,” Barta said. “Training is one thing, but I’ve also sat in a room as recently as a few weeks ago and a few months ago and last year several times where I sat across the table from some of our student-athletes who happened to be black. I was watching them describe to me the pain they have gone through in our community.
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“In some cases, the remarks were unintentional, but they hurt. I know when a statement like that is made, even if the intent is not ill, it hurts a group of people.”
Learfield received a complaint Tuesday night. Barta and Learfield employees, including human resources, reviewed the audio as quickly as they could.
“We both listened to it (Iowa and Learfield) and we said, ‘We have a problem,’” Barta said.
Barta said he understood the public’s frustration with the amount of time that passed between the Friday announcement of the suspension and Wednesday’s news conference. He said the issue could’ve been addressed earlier, but all involved decided to wait another day to talk because the Hawkeyes had a basketball game at Ohio State.
On the suspension, this was Dolphin’s second of the season. Dolphin was suspended in November when he criticized guard Maishe Dailey over the air after believing the broadcast was off air.
That was a factor in deciding the length of this suspension, which runs through what’s left of the basketball season. Barta said the final determination on that was up to Learfield, but the UI was involved. Dolphin said he did want to go back on the air.
“I asked to be reinstated short of the suspension for the rest of the season,” Dolphin said. “The reasons are multiple. Unfair? No, the suspension. ... I wanted to get back on air as soon as possible to talk with the fan base, the boosters, the supporters and the Hawks across the state, because I don’t do social media. I felt if I could get back on air in the postseason that I could be back in the chair where I want to be, but I could also talk to fans in multiple ways. Let’s move forward, I’m going to take sensitivity classes and keep them informed that it’s going to be OK.”
There was rampant speculation that the UI and Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery were “out to get” Dolphin. When the first suspension was announced, Barta and McCaffery said there were “ongoing tensions” between the coach and announcer.
Dolphin assured that was not the case.
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“There’s been no attempt to fire me or remove me from this position by the university or Learfield or Fran McCaffery,” Dolphin said. “I can promise you that.”
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