JPinIC is out and about, so I’m filling in this week. While this is our weekly Monday column, I do not believe the following to be much of an overreaction.
A vague press release. A firestorm. Anger. Calls for action. Very little in the way of any meaningful anything. Then it repeats. Again and again and again. A circle without any end but a very clear beginning.
This is how Iowa athletic director Gary Barta has dealt with every episode I can remember since his unfortunate hiring on August 1, 2006. Now, obviously, the incident is physical, sexual and verbal assaults against students in the Hawkeye Marching Band during Iowa’s win over Iowa State in Jack Trice Stadium last week.
Now the story has gone national. But not just the story of rogue stadium-goers assaulting students just for the name on their chests and the logos on their hats. It is also yet another tale of utter buffoonery from Barta and University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld as they quite literally attempted to make what has now amounted to a scandal go away before being called out on their bullshit.
Kudos to the students who came forward with their stories. Without you, this quite possibly could have been completely swept under the rug.
Once again, it is embarrassing for the UI to the umpteenth degree. And while you can put a contract extension under wraps, you certainly cannot do that with hundreds of angry students.
The latest episode in Gary Barta’s Playtime Theater began on Monday, Sept. 16, with a vague statement released a little before 2 p.m. Central Time.
Statement from Gary Barta, Henry B. and Patricia B. Tippee Director of Athletics Chair: “University of Iowa Athletics has been made aware of inappropriate actions made toward student members and staff of the Hawkeye Marching Band while attending the Iowa State football game Sept. 14. We have contacted Iowa State Athletics administration and are working to gather additional information. “Our main priority is the safety of all Iowa students, staff, and coaches when attending events away from Iowa City.”
Yet Jamie Pollard, the Iowa State athletic director said he was not contacted with any sort of details. Considering this acknowledged an ongoing University of Iowa investigation, this seems the sort of thing there would be communication on.
This is, after all, Gary Barta we’re talking about.
“All we know is that Iowa issued a press release,” Pollard said to RadioIowa. “I couldn’t tell you what happened, when it happened or where it happened. No one has been able to ascertain that information or provide it to us.”
This is not some Iowa-Iowa State rivalry bullshit. From my understanding, this was a stressed and confused Jamie Pollard, who is by basically all accounts a fairly reasonable and forward-thinking athletic director.
When the press release dropped, the ensuing consensus was much the same as Pollard’s reaction: confusion. Some, of course, used this to go after Cyclone fans in every way they could, because people are assholes.
There’s a reason I didn’t refer to the perpetrators earlier as Iowa State fans: they are not. Back-and-forth ribbing has a place in any rivalry contest, assaults do not in civilized society — which happens to include the stands of a football stadium, for that matter.
The people that did this are, legally speaking, criminals.
On Wednesday, Sept. 18, two days after the first Barta statement and following the general uproar, the athletic directors of the two schools issued a joint press release.
“Both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University are committed to providing a safe environment for everyone attending events on their respective campuses. This includes members of the school’s marching bands.
Unfortunately, both the Hawkeye and Cyclone marching bands have been the target of unacceptable behavior at football games in Iowa City and Ames in recent years. Some of the conduct directed at the students in our respective marching bands recently has been rude, vulgar, and in some cases, violent.
We should all feel embarrassed when students in the bands don’t feel safe when performing at an away game. Each of our athletics departments is committed to doing whatever is necessary to improve the environment for visiting school marching bands in the future. A significant part of the solution is insisting our fans help address this issue by showing more respect to our visitors. We owe it to these hardworking performers to have a safe stage on which they can showcase their spirit and talent.”
I am very curious what went into making this statement. By not coordinating with Iowa State, Barta makes an ass of himself — and the UI — while backing Pollard into a corner too. Barta did not release any information in the report, making it near hearsay without evidence.
That is not to say what the band members experienced was hearsay, but it gives less credence to their claims. The UI did not support them properly and it is no surprise the situation immediately got worse.
Especially considering what happened next.
“Jamie Pollard and I had a telephone conversation mid-afternoon Monday in which we discussed general scope of the incident,” Barta said to the Press-Citizen’s Amiee Breaux on Thursday. “We agreed together to gather facts. After collecting information Monday and Tuesday, we realized it would be difficult to verify details and elected to focus on moving forward on future events.”
Barta and the Iowa Athletic Department decided to end the investigation. There would be hell to pay.
The first rumblings came from Facebook.
Early Thursday evening, Corey Knopp, a third-year band member who plays the tenor sax, posted a note in response to the University of Iowa ending the investigation.
Knopp is rightfully angry.
Several things start to come out here. One, a band member who he declines to name, had his or her ribs broken. Two, the University of Iowa told band members to basically be quiet about what happened and let the process play out.
Well, the “process” failed them.
Beer cans were thrown at the students and Knopp expanded on his experience with Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter Vanessa Miller on Friday.
“A fan shoved me out of his way as we were marching in formation back to the buses,” Knopp told The Gazette in an interview. “He decided to cut through the band and shoved me out of his way. I yelled, ‘Do not put your hands on me sir,’ and he yelled back, ‘(expletive) you.’” It was unlike fan abuse he’d experienced before.
“No fan has ever touched me, let alone pushed me,” he said. “I was shocked he actually felt the need to do so.”
Although he didn’t suffer lasting injuries, Knopp said some of his peers did. “A girl’s ribs are broken because of fan interaction,” he said. “A member of the band was cornered by a number of males and was assaulted.”
Fans pulled at the drum line and attacked members, Knopp said. They threw beer cans and shook and sprayed them at the members’ feet as they marched. “We expect to be booed and the usual rivalry game antics,” he said. “But never physically and sexually assaulted.”
Images showing injuries from the assaults then started to find their way out of Iowa City, including nasty bruises from beer bottles and cans.
Just got done speaking with a UI band member who sustained this injury last Saturday after a beer bottle was thrown at him— Mike OBrien (@mobrientv) September 20, 2019
The student says the Athletics Department failed the band by dropping the investigation
More at 6 on @KCRG pic.twitter.com/ZIlgWXKNXv
As the students started to speak out about their experiences with various local media, the UI Athletic Department started to go into damage control. But it was far, far too late.
The Daily Iowan interviewed Nathan Topping, who stated that he was one of the students injured during the game. Outside of the beer bottles and verbal assaults, the article says (quoting the writer, DI sports editor Anna Kayser here) “Topping said he was carrying a drumline stand and alleged that fans attempted to take it from him while also grabbing at his arms.”
The DI interview with Topping was also taped by DITV:
While Barta, Harreld, and Hawkeye Marching Band director apparently did not respond immediately to media requests on Friday, Jeneane Beck, assistant vice president for external relations, did.
As Beck represents the University of Iowa in most situations where the school has to make comments, it would seem likely the response was concocted by administrators and quite possibly Barta and Harreld themselves.
In an email to The Gazette (and apparently other media outlets) Beck said:
“The communication on social media made it clear we had not shared enough information with our students about the steps the university has taken to address the concerns raised by members of our marching band.
“Student safety is our number one priority and we are committed to ensuring a safe experience on game day for our students. Additionally we are continuing our investigation to ensure all of our students have the ability to share their experiences with the appropriate authorities.”
Again, this is on Friday — a full six days after the football game was played. Iowa reverses course on ending the investigation, which is still ongoing as of the publishing of this piece.
In addition, an email was sent out to band members that provided them with details on where to go with inquiries on legal and other options. This was apparently the second time the email had been sent out.
The email was a joint statement from Deputy Athletics Director Barbara Burke and UI School of Music Director Tammie Walker. In a Press-Citizen article, Burke apparently told band members in the email some of the actions that had been taken since the game.
In short, those actions were the fact Barta had reached out to Pollard for information, that the band had met with several organizations including the Division of Student Life, the Athletic Department and Human Resources and Harreld had also met with the presidents of Iowa State and Northern Iowa to discuss safety protocol.
“We understand the last week has been difficult for each of you, and we would like to take a moment to offer our unconditional support, while ensuring you have access to the list of resources which was shared on Tuesday,” according to the email.
Burke included the phone number for the UI Police Department and said law enforcement officials are “limited in actions they can take in response to reports to the media or online.”
University of Iowa officials also did not respond to questions submitted Friday afternoon about whether they reported allegations of sexual assault to police or the Office of Sexual Misconduct, or whether they are obligated to do so.
So because the University of Iowa did not conduct a thorough investigation, band members are in a bit of a bind. Due to the fact they felt their complaints were not taken seriously by the UI Administration and UI Athletic Department, they went to the press with their very real stories.
Not responding to whether or not they were obligated to report the allegations of sexual assault is heinous as well. The fact the UI did not take that seriously at first — or at all, though the continuation of the investigation gives me some hope at least — is patently absurd.
The Iowa Athletic Department is now not only failing to protect its student-athletes, it is failing to protect anyone associated with Hawkeye sporting events.
At the end of the day, this mess lies at the feet of the two most powerful people at the University of Iowa: Gary Barta and Bruce Harreld.
Instead of immediately responding to band members, providing them with resources and making an effort to hear their stories and try to find the perpetrators involved, they sent out vague and unhelpful statements. While doing so, they told their students to be quiet about what they experienced.
It was not until a few students rehashed what were traumatizing incidents to media members they probably did not know that the UI made any sort of move. And it was a move to help save face, not help the people victimized by acts of violence.
More than a week removed from the game, it very well might be too late for any band member to find some sort of justice. They certainly will not get it from the university they love and spend thousands of dollars to attend.
Everyone deserves to have an enjoyable — and safe — experience while in school. But right now, the UI did not provide its band members with that.
When they called, there was no meaningful response.