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Hawkeye Football Players Can Choose To Kneel During National Anthem

University of Iowa football players can choose to stand or kneel during the national anthem at the first game of the season against Purdue University this weekend. Athletes across the country have become increasingly outspoken in calling attention to racial injustice in American society. The program is also in the midst of facing its own allegations of bias and mistreatment.

Wide receiver and sophomore Tyrone Tracy, Jr. made it clear speaking with reporters on Tuesday: he plans to kneel during the national anthem on Saturday.

“It’s very big to me, personally, just because I know how African Americans are treated in the United States. So me taking a kneel isn’t just like for show,” Tracy said. “It’s to let everyone know what I stand for and what I believe in.”

Hawkeye football players will now have the choice to use their platform as elite athletes to call attention to injustice from the field. That’s a change from past years, when Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said he wanted players to keep politics out of the game.

But that was before the recent national reckoning on race, and before dozens of former players took to social media to voice allegations of racial bias by coaches.

This summer, Ferentz’s position on this form of protest softened, but he said he hoped whatever the team chose to do, that they did it uniformly.

Since then, Ferentz and the team’s Leadership Group (select players who represent the rest of the team in policy discussions and decision-making settings) have apparently come to a new understanding, allowing individual players to choose for themselves.

“I’m convinced right now that we’ll see a variety of stances taken by our team,” Ferentz said. “But I can also tell you that based on what I’ve heard and in three separate meetings is everybody’s very respectful of each other. Nobody’s judging each other. Nobody’s taking roll or any of that kind of stuff.”

“They’re being a good team,” he added. “I’m extremely impressed with the way the guys have handled it.”

Meanwhile the program is bracing for a potential lawsuit brought by eight Black former players who allege widespread racial discrimination. A check of court records Tuesday evening did not reveal filings in the potential case. On Tuesday Ferentz would not directly comment on the pending legal action.

But he has committed to changing the culture and says he’s continuing to listen to players’ concerns.

Some players told reporters Tuesday that difficult conversations are being had and that the program is making progress.

“There is a lot of things going on within the world that needs some change.” Tracy said. “But I think here in the organization, I think we are going in the right direction. And I think we have taken steps to provide change.”

It’s not clear how many players beyond Tracy plan to kneel during the anthem.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter