Iowa Football

Iowa football review: Program's 'Iowa Way' left Black players feeling 'isolated, targeted, and unwelcome'

After 111 interviews, the conclusions are Black players faced issues at Iowa; President Bruce Harreld said needed change will continue

Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz congratulates Iowa Hawkeyes running back Tyler Goodson (15) after a touchdown duri
Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz congratulates Iowa Hawkeyes running back Tyler Goodson (15) after a touchdown during the first half of 2019 Holiday Bowl against the USC Trojans at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

An independent review released Thursday of the Iowa Hawkeyes football program confirmed complaints from Black former players that some coaches have been racially intolerant, and criticized the program’s “Iowa Way” mantra as squelching individualism.

The review by the Husch Blackwell firm was engaged after several former players took to social media in June to voice their complaints about the program.

“I have read the report, and it is clear that the climate and culture must and will change within our football program,” UI President Bruce Harreld said in a statement. “Our student-athletes must have the ability to be true to themselves, and we cannot and will not tolerate a systemic process that inhibits authenticity.”

In addition to the report, Husch Blackwell provided the university with four personnel reports related to current and former employees that will be a part of those individuals’ confidential personnel records.

“We have identified the issues, we have and will continue to address personnel matters, and we have started and will continue the needed change in our football program,” Harreld said.

Husch Blackwell interviewed 111 individuals, including 45 current and 29 former members of the football team and 36 current and former employees. The report said witnesses reported a range of experiences within the football program and that provided “several clear themes.”

• The Iowa football program under head coach Kirk Ferentz is based on discipline and accountability.

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From the report: “Several current and former players shared the view that some coaches have used those values to create and perpetuate an environment that bullies and demeans athletes, especially Black athletes. Moreover, recognizing that college athletes typically experience some degree of stress associated with their training and performance, several interviewees shared that the program’s stringent rules promulgated under the name of discipline place significant, heightened stress on players of all races.”

• From the report: “The interviews revealed that the Iowa football program has historically adhered to a philosophy (the ‘Iowa Way’) that mandates uniformity and discourages individualism. Many Black players expressed difficulty adjusting to the program’s culture as a result, explaining that they were required to conform to a ‘mold that appeared to be built around the stereotype of a clean-cut, white athlete from a Midwestern background. Numerous rules, both formal and perceived, requiring conformity around hair, clothing, jewelry, and tattoos left many Black players feeling isolated, targeted, and unwelcome in the program.”

• The report gave a positive review of Ferentz.

“While many players shared criticisms about the program generally or their personal experiences with certain coaches, most players commented positively about head coach Kirk Ferentz and his leadership of the program. Numerous players also praised their position coaches and described the beneficial impact those coaches have had on both their athletic and personal development. Players of all races also described forming good relationships with their teammates.”

• Things have improved since former strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle was removed from the program. Doyle received a $1.1 million buyout on June 15.

Doyle, who had led Iowa’s strength and conditioning program since 1999, was placed on paid administrative leave June 6 after a large group of former players had spoken out about mistreatment in the program. Most of the allegations came from Black players and focused on Doyle.

• Also from the report: “Finally, the current players were uniform in their belief that the environment in the football program has improved significantly since the inception of this review — both in a general sense and through specific attempts to address or prevent racial inequities. The players expressed hopefulness that these improvements will continue and result in sustained action that will improve the program.”

Ferentz and Iowa athletics director Gary Barta will speak at a news conference at 1 p.m. Thursday.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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