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Overreaction Monday: Iowa’s Problems With Racial Injustice an Opportunity for Broader Change

The Hawkeyes have been painted in a bad light by the national media, but the underlying issues are bigger than the Iowa and the staff has an opportunity to capitalize on this moment.

Iowa v Wisconsin
As Kirk Ferentz begins to implement change, the Hawkeyes look to come together.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The revelations of racial inequality within the University of Iowa’s football program over the last several weeks have been troubling. They’ve been difficult to swallow as fans and have clearly given the Iowa Hawkeyes a black eye. While the local media has done some introspection and questioned themselves for not sniffing things out sooner, the national media has spent no such time looking in the mirror. Rather, all efforts appear to have been focused the failings within the program and assigning blame to virtually all members of the staff and administration.

It was universally agreed upon almost as soon as the stories began to come out that Chris Doyle needed to go. Kirk Ferentz wasted no time in placing Doyle on administrative leave and Barta seemed to work quite quickly to secure an agreement to part ways with him a week ago.

But the national media seemed to ignore the words of nearly every former player who came forward. The stories and comments largely were targeted toward Doyle, but there were also a handful of unacceptable accounts of incidents involving Brian Ferentz, as well as at least one incident each involving Seth Wallace and Phil Parker. With the exception of DJK, Akrum Wadley’s mother, and perhaps one or two others, very few called out Kirk Ferentz.

Rather, outside of those few critics, nearly every player to came forward has stated they feel like Ferentz is the right man to correct the problem, that he should not be fired. The national media, however, seemed to not actually take the time to read all the tweets and stories. Instead, they read headlines and the select tweets that were shared more broadly, which of course were the most notable and offensive of the group, and ran to grab pitchforks. They called not only for Chris Doyle’s head, but for those of nearly everyone in the program. Brian Ferentz needed to go. Seth Wallace needed to go. Kirk Ferentz needed to go.

Never mind that his worst transgression reported was telling NFL scouts that Akrum Wadley refused to add weight (which the NFL discovered on their own when he made a practice squad, was able to show for himself what he could do and was cut) and being honest with those same scouts about his difficulties with DJK, who has admitted to being on drugs during his time with the team and was arrested in season on drug charges. Never mind that the players actually in the football facility, actually showing the courage to come forward for change and actually living the experiences have virtually all said the best person to lead Iowa through this time is Kirk Ferentz.

Again and again, from Paul Finebaum to Dan Wolken, members of the media called for mass changes to the coaching staff at Iowa and acted as if this was some sort of appalling thing that is only happening in Iowa City. There was no discussion about the broader circumstances or the history, there was only finger pointing and faux outrage.

It is completely fair to ask how this could have gone on for what is now believed to be the better part of a decade without the head coach knowing. It’s fair to question his response to the allegations from Diaunte Morrow that Doyle said he would “send him back to the ghetto.” It’s fair to question what specific actions were taken in response to the allegations against Brian Ferentz and why they may have differed from those taken against Doyle. All of that is not only fair, but necessary.

What’s not necessary is calling for a gutting of the Iowa staff. This is not a problem exclusive to Chris Doyle, Brian Ferentz, Seth Wallace, Phil Parker, Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Football or the state of Iowa. This is a cultural problem that has been propagated for hundreds of years. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, for the people impacted by systemic racism, it’s a very real issue across this entire country.

That has not been addressed by the pundits and talking heads who were quick to label Iowa after skimming headlines and anecdotes. Over the last few weeks, the focus has slowly shifted away from Iowa. The 24 hour news cycle has moved on. Since then, we’ve come to learn that there have been similar issues at schools such as Utah, Florida State, Clemson and Oklahoma State. We’ve learned that players at Texas dread singing the traditional “The Eyes of Texas” due to its racist history. We’ve learned that the University of Florida will discontinue its traditional “Gator Bait” chant because, and this comes with a graphic content warning, it originates from a practice of using Black babies as live bait to catch alligators.

Again, this is not an Iowa football problem, this is a racism in this country problem. While the national media was quick to pin a label of the Iowa program, the changes happening in Iowa City have been of the variety needed both in other programs around the country and in our nation as a whole. The calls to listen and learn are not just for coaches in the football complex or fans on a team website, they’re for all people in all places.

The first step to fixing a problem is identifying you have one. The Hawkeyes have done that. Now, they have a program-defining opportunity to address the problem and be at the forefront of a broader cultural shift. The coaching staff and athletics administration can embrace the discussions and conversations that are ongoing, especially those really uncomfortable ones, and grow as a program.

Losing Chris Doyle is difficult for this team. He helped define Iowa Football under Kirk Ferentz. He developed players as well as anyone in the business. But we’ve come to learn he clearly alienated a portion of the team. He created an environment that was unacceptable and one where he simply did not get the best out of every athlete. Iowa now has a chance to do just that. They have a chance to come together as a team in a way they’ve never been able to in the last. They have an opportunity to develop more athletes than they ever have before if they can truly embrace the differences that make the program and the country great.

While the national media has moved one, we’ve seen in our Iowa fish bowl just what that can look like. We haven’t seen a mass exodus of players transferring with a clear opportunity for waivers of immediate eligibility. We haven’t seen a slew of decommitments. Instead, we’ve seen players speak out in unity. We’ve seen inspiring messages from incoming recruits and their families alike. We’ve seen recruiting continue to roll along, adding the 17th commitment in the class just yesterday.

The story of racial disparities in the Iowa Football program is not one of tragedy. It has a painful past that needs to be told, but that’s not the whole story. It’s just the beginning. Now we’re seeing the changes begin to take shape. We’re seeing minor adjustments to policies and the tweaks that get the ball rolling. We’re seeing that this story is one of opportunity and progress that can better the program and be used as a selling point rather than a dirty little secret. It’s not just an Iowa Football story, but one for our nation. What the next chapter holds remains to be seen, but it’s one that also deserves to be told.