As an Iowa fan and an Iowa football fan in particular, the last several weeks have felt like some painful version of Groundhog Day. There has been some good news in terms of recruiting momentum and transfers coming into the program, but it feels like every week any potential good news is far overshadowed by two repeat stories that continue to take twists and turns.
The first being the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where we see cases rising to record levels around the country as things reopen. We’ve see the University of Iowa release their budget for the next year with steep cuts due to anticipated lower revenues. They’ve limited football ticket sales, indicating at best we’re likely to see stadiums that are far from full capacity. In short, a 2020 football season is entirely in doubt.
As miserable as that potential seems, the second topic is perhaps equally painful for Iowa fans as we continue to see a slow trickle of news and stories from former players expressing their grievances. To date, Chris Doyle is gone from the football program. Kirk Ferentz has addressed the media multiple times. Gary Barta has addressed the media. Three current players have spoken with the media. The entire team is now on social media. A council of former players has been formed to guide the program going forward. According to multiple accounts, difficult conversations have been had in heated exchanges between players and coaches. Things are changing.
That was the stated goal of those players who initially came forward. Over the last few weeks, a growing number of players have come forward through a third party, Robert T. Green of Pre-Postgame. The anectdotes from Akrum Wadley, Maurice Flemming, Jonathan Parker and others have been of a very different tune than the 50+ former players who initially came forward. The stories have included some already known details and stories that are clearly in line with what we’ve grown to understand as an underlying issue within the program, but they’re also laced with stories and comments that run counter to the narrative or are entirely unrelated.
The shift from stories told by players, from their social media accounts, to statements posted through a third party has come with a very different tone and apparently different motives. Within the fanbase, there seems to be a similar ongoing shift, from unity in support of the players coming forward to division on who is telling the truth and what should be done.
It’s with this changing dynamic in mind that I feel compelled to draft an open letter to James Daniels, Faith Ekakitie, Jordan Lomax and the myriad other former players who have come forward to share their stories of racial inequality in the Iowa football program.
To all current and former Iowa players:
First and foremost, thank you. Thank you for everything. Thank you for putting your bodies and minds on the line for all of us to enjoy an entertainment product from the stands and on TV. To those of you who have been brave enough to come forward and tell your stories, thank you. To James Daniels and Faith Ekakitie in particular, who were among the first to start the conversation, thank you.
I, like most Hawkeye fans and most people in the state of Iowa, am white. Worse, I’m a white man. I was born with perhaps as much privilege as is possible in this world. It’s impossible for me to ever fully understand what it’s like to be a Black man in this country. But I think I speak for a significant portion of the fanbase when I say I’d like to do my best. I’d like to try.
The 50+ former players who have come forward deserve to have their voices heard. EVERY player deserves to have their voice heard. If there are, or have been, improprieties perpetuated by anyone involved with Iowa athletics on any level at any time, we NEED to know about it. You don’t owe it to us. You don’t owe us anything. But you owe it to yourselves. Your voices need to be heard and your experiences need to be learned from.
As the people who buy the tickets, pay for the conference TV network subscriptions, scoop up jerseys and write the donation checks, we support the program we love. We pay for the people in charge. But the vast majority of us have no access to the program whatsoever. We have no idea what is said or done behind closed doors. We will never know how hard you all work or what your experience is like. Unless you tell us.
Racism, whether outright or via unconscious bias or any other means, is not acceptable. Not in the Hawkeye football complex, not in this country. The sad reality is we’ve come to learn through your sharing that it has been an ongoing issue in the Iowa football program for some time. That’s unacceptable and it must change. But it’s not just an Iowa football problem.
I don’t have to tell any of you that racism is a much bigger problem than Iowa football or college football. Racism is a national problem that as a white man I can only begin to understand. But I understand enough to know it cannot be tolerated and it must be addressed by listening and learning from those with different backgrounds and experiences than our own. To grow and make the necessary changes, we need to hear your stories.
We need to know what the issues inside the football complex and our nation truly are. To do that, we need to be able to separate the cases of truly racist, biased or otherwise inappropriate behavior from the exaggerated, fabricated or unrelated anecdotes that may also be shared.
There have been stories of utterly unacceptable behavior by Chris Doyle and other members of the Iowa staff. Doyle is no longer with the program. The others remain in place. If some of the stories we’ve seen are true, it’s imperative the players who can corroborate them speak up. If Brian Ferentz truly said, in front of players and coaches that, “only a dumb ass Black player would do it like that,” he should be held accountable. If Kirk Ferentz heard that comment or was told of it later and did nothing, he should be held accountable. But if that claim is not factual, the former player and his representative who put out the statement should be held accountable.
It is not standing up for your brothers or supporting them to stand by while falsehoods and stories of personal vendettas overshadow the many, very real, stories of racial disparities and mistreatment in the program. Supporting your teammates is doing what it takes to drive the positive changes that are needed; sharing your stories and either confirming or denying others so that those responsible for the past can be held accountable and those best suited to guide the needed change can be elevated and heard for the future.
It is completely understandable to not want to put yourself out there on social media and open yourself up to criticism from a vocal minority. There are truly bad people out there. But the truth matters. As a people, we can unite around the need for change. But right now, within our fanbase, there is a divide driven in part by white privilege, ignorance and misunderstanding, but in part by the demonstrably false claims and personal grievances that are distracting from the real story. Without the people who were in the room speaking up, we will remain divided, rather than united behind a common goal of change.
Don’t stop coming forward. Don’t stop telling your truth. But be clear in your message. If there are individuals who need to be removed from the program, bring that to light. If there are falsehoods being told for ulterior motives, shine light on that as well.
If not for football, most fans wouldn’t know who most players are, but because of football we do. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about you as human beings. To the contrary, because of football, we’ve gotten to know more about you than we otherwise would have. And because of football, you have a platform few others are afforded. You have the opportunity to truly be heard and affect change.
Please treat that opportunity as a responsibility. Not for the fans, but for yourselves, your teammates past, present and future, and for this country. We will be better.
-White Iowa Fan, JPinIC
Over the next several weeks, there are sure to be more stories coming to light. That’s a good thing for the program and for the nation. As fans, we should be listening and learning with open minds. We can’t let the stories we don’t believe or the things we disagree with take away from the ultimate message: there have been underlying problems within the Iowa football program and there remain underlying issues within our nation. We can come together to resolve them, but the first step is acknowledging they exist.