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Allegations Of Racial Bias In Hawkeye Football Program A Factor For Some Recruits

Allegations of racial discrimination within the University of Iowa football program have become a factor some recruits are considering as they weigh committing to the team. Top coaches and administrators currently face a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by former Hawkeye football players, who allege they were subjected to a pattern of racial bias and mistreatment.

“There are too many racial disparities in the Iowa football program. Black players have been treated unfairly for far too long,” former player James Daniels tweeted on June 5, 2020.

His statements helped prompt an outpouring from a slate of current and former players, who took to social media to air their accounts of what they described as a pattern of racial discrimination and a culture of harassment in the program.

The reckoning on the Hawkeye football team came in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, which spurred protests and actions for racial justice around the world.

Many of the accounts posted to social media focused on the conduct of former strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. Players allege he bullied them, using disparaging language and racist stereotypes.

Some players said the struggle to conform to the "Iowa Culture" resulted in anxiety that was "unbearable at times".

Doyle left his post later that month after negotiating a more than $1 million payout.

The players’ allegations garnered significant attention, including from recruits and their families, who are bringing it up with current players as they consider committing to the team.

Iowa wide receiver Tyrone Tracy says he’s been fielding questions on the issue from prospective players.

“The parents that are worried about it…they don’t want to send their son into an environment that’s…not how they want it to be, racially,” he said. “They don’t want to send them into something that they wouldn’t want to send themselves into.”

Last November, former players filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the program, arguing they had been subject to “pervasive harassment, bullying, policies causing disparate treatment, and race-based threats” under the coaching staff, conditions which they said dated back two decades.

Tracy says conditions in the program have improved over the past year, especially among players, after emotional team meetings where he said players of color finally felt comfortable giving voice to their experience.

“When everyone’s feelings was being poured out, it was kind of like eye-opening, you know? And people kind of understood what everyone was going through and how we was feeling and what the minorities was going through,” Tracy said. “To be honest, some of the white players on the team didn’t really see it until we actually said something about it.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, head coach Kirk Ferentz said the program is making progress and is proactively bringing the issue up in conversations with recruits.

“I think it’s something we’ve had to make sure that we address,” Ferentz said. “I feel like we have a really healthy program. And…not to go down that road too far, but I mean we’re not the only place in the country where that was a discussion.”

While Ferentz has taken steps to change the culture in the wake of players' outcry on social media, reporting indicates that the program was aware of systemic racial injustices and patterns of discrimination more than a year before players took their accounts public.

An internal report from 2019 obtained by Hawkeye Nation found that Black male athletes across the UI athletic department reported coaches subjected them to disparate punishment and public humiliation, and a pervasive culture of whiteness that left them feeling isolated and unable to be themselves.

“We’ve tried to take the steps that we think are helpful and beneficial for our environment. And we gotta continue doing that,” Ferentz told reporters Tuesday. “But what really matters is how the players perceive it. That’s the bottom line on all that.”

For his part, Tracy said that while he’s become more comfortable within the program in the past year, lasting change to the team’s culture will require continued effort for years to come.

“[Coaches have] been consistent this past year. That’s ok. But you told me you was going to do that. Now you’ve got to be consistent when I’m not here, you know? In four years. Or in 10 years,” Tracy said. “Now if it’s like that in 10 years, that’s how you change the culture around here.”

The federal civil rights lawsuit brought by former players is slated to go to trial in 2023.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter