’18 Athletic Department Study Showed Serious Racial Bias in Iowa Football
IOWA CITY, Iowa – As University of Iowa football responds to public allegations of racial bias within the program—widespread on social media after a June 3 Tweet by Chicago Bears offensive lineman and former Hawkeye player James Daniels—a document obtained by Hawkeye Nation suggests the athletic department knew over a year ago about the significant problems and inequalities being alleged now.
The good news is athletics director Gary Barta and football coach Kirk Ferentz are taking action and working toward a more inclusive environment. That can’t happen soon enough for the more than 50 former and current Black football players who have alleged inequality.
A Kansas City law firm, hired by Iowa, is currently investigating the allegations and is expected to complete and submit its report by the end of this month.
The charges against Iowa come at a time when the country faces new resurgences of protests against racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death last May while in Minneapolis police custody. It appears James Daniels’ public statement created a domino effect across the country with other college sports programs calling out similar injustices in their states.
America’s awakening has inspired awareness in Iowa football and a commitment to change that both Ferentz and Barta now deem necessary. However, new information raises the critical question: What did they know well before the social media storm—and could they have done more sooner?
“I had convinced myself that we were doing enough,” Barta said during a June 15 press conference. “Frankly, the past few weeks have been a wakeup call for me, I know [for] Kirk. But everybody in Iowa Football and Iowa athletics [was woken up].”
The document obtained by HawkeyeNation.com gives clear indications that greater change was needed some time ago, but it took a group of former student-athletes publicly speaking out and applying pressure to spark action. Presented to the athletic department in early 2019, the report details many of the same racial bias allegations raised by the players last month. A Diversity Task Force (DTF), comprised of nine UI employees who conducted interviews in fall 2018, created the nine-page report.
After filing a Freedom of Information request for the report, which was an athletic department-wide study, HN received a summary of findings found on the university’s official website. It was four pages shorter than the full report HN has obtained. You can read the full report in its entirety below.
The DTF interviewed 50 current and former black and white student-athletes, senior- or mid-level staff members in UI athletics management, and staff members holding positions as coach, operations director, athletic training, or strength and conditioning across the entire athletic department.
Barta acknowledged on June 15 that “while no teams or individuals were singled out, it was reported verbally that many of these comments were coming from football.” No other recent student-athletes from Hawkeye sports programs outside of football have issued known public claims of racial discrimination.
Daniels met with Barta midway through the ’19 spring semester while he was finishing his degree following his rookie NFL season. Daniels confirmed that the concerns from the report’s summary were happening in the football program. He was interviewed by the DTF for the report as was teammate Derrick Mitchell Jr., who passed away last October after graduating from Iowa.
This latest information shows that Ferentz knew well before the June social media storm that Black players felt they were:
- Expected to conform to White culture
- Subjected to verbal harassment
- Targeted for extra drug testing
- Misled about resources available to them during the recruiting process
- Subjected to inequitable discipline policies and double standards
- Misunderstood by both coaches and White player
- Unsupported in their academic pursuits
The report indicated that these issues combined to create an environment that caused Blacks to transfer from Iowa at a higher rate than whites—in fact, at Iowa, the rate differential in the football program was the highest in the entire Big Ten Conference. It also suggested a lack of knowledge or understanding among coaches and staff about the reasons for transfers and the resulting low graduation rate among black student-athletes.
Ferentz read the full report detailing racial inequities in 2019. Based on that, he initiated some changes before last season. “We allowed (student-athletes) to wear hats, earrings, [and hoodies] but what I learned here is there’s a lot more to it,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got to dig deeper, listen better, and act on things that count.”
On June 7, Ferentz said that he didn’t recall learning of anything that alarmed him or alerted him to inappropriate treatment of student-athletes in his program prior to Daniels and others speaking out publicly last month.
“I think you could argue that (the Iowa Football culture) has been healthy based on results,” the coach said last month. “My responsibility and my charge is to make sure (racism) isn’t prevalent in our program…I would not quantify that as a major issue right now.”
The key theme of the report, Barta stated on June 15, was Black student-athletes did not feel comfortable being their authentic selves. Interviewees for the report answered questions anonymously, and no specific staff members were named in the allegations.
However, Barta said there were concerning statements like:
“I felt I had to put a mask on and check my identity at the door.”
“I was told by my coach to change my hairstyle because it didn’t fit the Iowa culture.”
“One student-athlete said a staff member cursed and yelled, degrading an African American student-athlete in front of his peers.”
While concerning and problematic, the athletic director’s sharing of charges within the report only scratched the surface.
The task force broke up their interviews into three subcommittees. HN summarizes their findings below.
The report states that 15 current and former African American student-athletes and nine white student-athletes were interviewed. They were identified based on their status as UI student-athletes and randomly selected within their sports team.
The overarching theme of their anonymous responses indicated that blacks needed to conform to white culture, according to the DTF report.
“The white student-athletes at Iowa are viewed as the standard that African-American student-athletes should strive to mold themselves after,” one student-athlete said in the report.
White student-athletes agreed with this statement and that particularly students from Iowa found it easier to fit the mold.” This “mold” was defined by students as “tough,” “hardworking,” “Iowa,” or “white.”
Daniels and fellow NFL player Amani Hooker alleged similar treatment during their time with the Iowa Football program during a social media conversation on June 5.
That cultural theme contrasted with the student-athletes’ life away from their sport, the report stated. Nearly all the student-athletes interviewed said that their experiences on campus and with the general student body had been positive. They had not been subjected to any prejudices or overt forms of racism.
Those student-athletes also indicated they were steered away from joining organizations apart from their sport.
“We are told to focus on one thing only, our sport. Everything else is a distraction, even having significant others. We are told to commit to the team first and only be friends with student-athletes,” one student reported.
The students said their decision to attend the university was based on how the programs were presented to them in the recruiting process. However, after arriving on campus, few black student-athletes felt like they were connected to the support system that recruited them. They didn’t feel the coaches took time to understand what was going on in their personal lives, how they were feeling, or if they were struggling.
One student-athlete said that his coach “brushed off a death in the family. He was not sympathetic, and I did not feel supported.”
Black student-athletes reported feeling isolated, which many believe was a key factor in their peers’ decisions to transfer. Retention rates along with player representation on the football team were researched in a recent HN report. The numbers show that blacks transfer away from Iowa at a higher rate compared to their white teammates.
A study done by USC’s Race and Equity Center shows that among 65 Power 5 football programs, Iowa ranked 60th in graduating black student-athletes. In the Big Ten, its 37 percent differential between graduating black and white student-athletes ranked as the highest in the conference. The study looked at the years 2014-18.
A number of black student-athletes reported that they didn’t see the “Iowa culture” (i.e. the difference in treatment between black and white student-athletes or the inability for blacks to be themselves) on their recruiting trips, the report stated. If they had, they indicated they never would have committed to the university.
White student-athletes agreed that there is “an Iowa culture,” which they described as “hardworking.” They believed that “geographical rather than racial differences may cause students not from this area to feel alienated and eager to leave.” As opposed to their black counterparts, whites mentioned if they want support, “they feel comfortable talking to their coaches if they have a problem or concern.”
Whites from the region also pointed out their “ability to go home” and find a support system. Unlike their black peers, they reported their recruiting experience matched their experience at Iowa with one athlete stating that “expectations in the recruiting process matched what they experienced when they arrived on campus.”
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“Double-standard” was used by nearly all of the black student-athletes interviewed in describing the difference between how black student-athletes are treated in relation to their white peers. Nearly all black student-athletes reported that one of the predominant reasons that blacks leave is because of the way coaches and some support staff speak to them while their white peers are not subjected to the same negative interactions.
In the report, many examples were shared of black student-athletes being cursed at, ridiculed, and embarrassed in front of their peers. Some student-athletes interviewed felt their white peers were not spoken to in such a disrespectful way.
White student-athletes believe some students are treated differently but attribute it to “geographical” rather than racial differences. As an example, students not from this region may have a difficult time understanding “hard work” and “doing things right all the time, both academically and socially.”
One white student-athlete mentioned in the report that black athletes are “tested more for drugs” than their white peers, and “white student-athletes stay off the radar.”
Daniels along with D.J. Johnson, who transferred from Iowa to Purdue this offseason, and former Hawkeye Terrence Harris talked about perceived drug-testing inequities on social media June 6. Johnson said Iowa Football administers its own drug tests beyond the NCAA random tests.
Ferentz was asked on June 7 about allegations that his black student-athletes were drug tested at an unfair rate compared to whites, to which he responded:
“I’m not sure that’s a fair statement…I feel like it has been equitable and fair in the way we’ve done it.”
White and Black student-athletes felt there was a short period of time to make a good impression and that they perceive the margin for error to be much smaller for blacks. Many student-athletes said some of their black peers transferred or were asked to leave because they were not meeting Iowa’s expectations. One student-athlete shared an experience when a staff member cursed and degraded a black student-athlete in front of his peers for not doing something the right way.
“That set the tone for that kid and he left a week later. I personally have experienced this at least once per week since I have been here. This isolates the students of color who may not have the mental fortitude to withstand all of the bullshit by themselves and they don’t have someone of the same color to go to. It’s hard to be ourselves around coaches. If you are, you are vulnerable,” the student-athlete said.
Many student-athletes reported that black student-athletes felt staff applied discipline unfairly and punitively, nothing that when their White peers committed similar disciplinary infractions the “punishments are not equal based on race.” They felt that discipline is a “death sentence” and coaches will work to slowly push them out the door, eventually giving the scholarship to someone who can live up to the “Iowa Way.”
The perception of black student-athletes is that their white peers can miss tutoring and arrive late to meetings but do not see their playing time diminish or other disciplinary measures similar to what they experience for the same offense.
While some white student-athletes reported that they don’t believe there is a “double-standard” … “there is a very short window of opportunity to prove yourself.” If you don’t prove yourself, you will be “pushed out and that it is hard to recover even for one mistake.”
One white student-athlete mentioned that black student-athlete departures are a “recognizable area of concern,” especially within the student’s cohort—and that trend appears to get worse every year.
A separate subcommittee interviewed 11 UI staff members. They held positions including head coach, assistant coach, operations director, athletic trainer, or in strength and conditioning. The DTF interviewed nine men and three women.
The interviews showed a lack of knowledge regarding graduation rates, especially among black male student-athletes. Coaches reported being “surprised” to hear such low graduation rates for blacks. Additionally, they reported “not noticing any problems or concerns with any one group of student-athletes.”
The high rate of Blacks transferring from Iowa has impacted the graduation rates. When asked why blacks were graduating at lower rates than their White peers, coaches associated those rates to academic factors (even though the data shows few Blacks have left Iowa because of academic eligibility or poor academic standing).
Coaches attributed low graduation rates to factors outside of their control or team culture. Coaches mentioned “family dynamics,” “attitudes toward education,” and “student upbringing” as reasons for departure along with professional opportunities within their sport.
Regarding treatment of Black student-athletes, several themes emerged: including a sentiment of complacency and low expectations of Black student-athletes. Coaches reported that they treat student-athletes the same, however, there was a stark difference when coaches described Black and White student-athletes.
Coaches more likely described white student-athletes as being from a “two-parent home,” “good upbringing,” “smart,” “tough,” and “talented.” In contrast, they described Black student-athletes by their “socio-economic background,” “tough upbringing,” or “at-risk.” Descriptions of both groups tracked with wider societal stereotypes about white and black people.
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One staff member reported that “student-athletes are more attuned to discriminatory behaviors than what coaches or administrators give them credit.” While some coaches viewed more Black student-athletes as at-risk, they felt every student had the opportunity to get off the proverbial “at-risk list.”
However, the report also showed that coaches were more likely to discuss what Black student-athletes can do for the university and less about what the institution, athletic department, and team could do to offer support.
Some coaches reported that student-athletes of color who “do not assimilate” to the cultural expectations of Iowa are more likely to leave. With regard to those student-athletes of color, “assimilation” meant “don’t do anything to draw unwarranted attention to yourself athletically or socially.”
Coaches recognized “differences in needs between students from different groups” and reported having individualized meetings, which they consider an effective strategy in creating stronger relationships. Overall, coaches felt those relationships were based on trust and open dialogue.
A difficulty in recruiting Black student-athletes also emerged as a theme among the coaches. They reported a need to educate recruits about the Iowa City community and combat stereotypes about Iowa.
Coaches described the program culture as “unique, which makes maintaining and graduating Black student-athletes difficult.” Some coaches implied that the White culture of Iowa is in fact more unique than that of other predominantly White institutions. Several coaches attributed problems with recruitment and retention of Black student-athletes to “just not liking Iowa.”
The report found this sentiment prevalent among many members of the UI athletic department and an issue they’ve come to accept. The report indicates that such an outlook weakens any sense of urgency for changing the culture because the coaches do not view the problem as within their control.
The report stated that demonstrating diversity among student-athletes and athletic department staff proved critical in successful recruitment of Black student-athletes. Coaches noted the importance of these resources during the recruiting process, but provided little insight into how they deepened relationships or advocated for such resources after the player arrived on campus.
In addition, coaches acknowledged the importance of Black coaches on staff but did not mention their strategies for the advancement of Black leadership or maintaining a pipeline for recruiting more minority coaches.
Finally, the last theme pertained to the importance of mentorship for Black student-athletes. Several coaches suggested bringing back programs from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Coaches described mentoring opportunities for former Black student-athletes. However, there was less discussion on how or if they mobilized campus or community leaders outside of UI athletics.
STAFF AND ADMINISTRATOR SUBCOMMITTEE
This DTF subcommittee interviewed 15 people (10 men and five women). They were selected based on their interaction with student-athletes and coaches, and their ability as a manager to hire and therefore influence diversity within UI athletics. They also could impact departmental policy pertaining to student-athlete persistence and graduation.
An overarching theme was that staff and administrators lacked awareness of Black student-athlete experiences. The report noted a disconnect between their perceptions and the Black student-athletes’ actual experiences. They acknowledged that Black student-athletes never explicitly approached them with concerns, and they had not actively sought out feedback from Black student-athletes.
Staff and administrators appeared to believe that problems or concerns would be reported, and that “student-athletes seem to have a positive experience” at Iowa. Staff and administrators said they conducted regular performance evaluations and provided feedback for coaches when assessing each team’s culture.
When asked about coach accountability for improving graduation rates, staff and administrators expressed concern but lacked substantive methods for addressing the issues outside of yearly performance evaluations. It was unclear what, if any, repercussions existed for teams not improving Black student-athlete graduation rates.
According to one staff member, “there is a disconnect between the administration and what transpires within certain teams.”
Another theme generated was the noticeable lack of diversity among non-coaching staff members, including senior administrators, middle-level managers, and support staff. For the 2019 football program, the media guide listed 26 non-student members of its support staff. All were White. In addition, among the full-time strength staff, operations staff, and analyst staff, 12 of the 14 were White.
The report indicated that staff and administrators felt department staff should reflect and represent the student-athlete population. They found Black male student-athletes had few staff members in UI athletics with whom they can personally identify, resulting in fewer opportunities for mentorship and guidance.
In addition, if Black male student-athletes want a supportive environment, “they have to look for resources” unlike their White peers. Minorities also were underrepresented in key support areas such as mental health, strength and conditioning, athletic training, and student development.
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While the athletics department had “done a good job emphasizing the importance of diversity,” it lacked results in achieving diversity among staff members. When asked about discussing diversity, specifically race, the report found that department individuals were not open to talking about race and treated such conversations “as checking a box.”
An explanation for this resistance was described as staff being “uncomfortable with constructive conflict,” which prevented them from addressing implicit and explicit biases. One interviewee suggested that diversity needs to be “engrained throughout the department and emphasized in the Strategic Plan as much as winning, graduating, and doing things the right way.”
Staff and administrators attributed high transfer rates for Black student-athletes to a lack of playing time and lack of community belonging. If Black student-athletes were struggling athletically and not engaged on campus and in the community, “they have no reason to want to stay at Iowa.” When asked if student-athletes were encouraged to become actively involved the community, the report indicated that some coaches either did not actively encourage it or may have even discouraged student-athletes from becoming part of the community.
Explanations for that approach included the importance of “controlling messaging to student-athletes” from people outside the program, the “perception that non-student-athlete groups lead to more trouble,” and “student-athletes experiencing greater commitments to their sport.”
A lack of trust between Black student-athletes and their coaches also emerged as a key reason for Black student-athlete departures, according to staff and administrators.
“African American student-athletes may be distrustful of the people they come into contact with in the (UI athletic) department because they do not understand our true motives,” the report states. Black student-athletes may be more distrustful of program leadership and avoid talking openly about negative experiences because of the authority coaches and administrators have over their playing time and scholarships.
Additionally, the report uncovered a “distrustful relationship between some support units who work with specific teams and student-athletes.” Staff reported that for all student-athletes, but specifically Blacks, “performance and trust are interrelated.”
Staff reiterated the importance of student-athletes understanding coaches care. The need to build a constructive and positive relationship with Black student-athletes was deemed even more important. The lack of trust may originate from a perceived shift in athletic department culture: “our department is more distrustful of student-athletes now than 10 years ago.”
As one more staff member admitted: “We are more likely to question, place blame, or assume guilt, particularly on the part of African American student-athletes.”
Staff members suggested the department needed better messaging to Black student-athletes about its culture. The report named administrators as responsible for managing an effective department culture, but coaches responsible for establishing an environment where student-athletes feel valued.
Student-athlete expectations during recruitment was another theme that contributes to lower graduation rates for Black males. The subcommittee reported, “All students are recruited based on their athletic ability. For African American student-athletes, this may be heightened.”
The report could not pinpoint how honest coaches were with students during the recruiting process, however Black student-athletes may have greater difficulty adjusting to the “true environment after the recruiting process.”
Staff mentioned Black student-athletes may lack support in the academic setting because faculty, staff, and students question Black student-athletes’ academic motivations and view their athletic identity above their academic identity.
Compared to their White male peers who graduate at about a 40 percent higher rate, Black student-athletes experience more academic stereotypes on campus because their identities are more salient than White student-athletes at Iowa.
ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT RESPONSE TO REPORT
The public push by James Daniels and many other former Hawkeyes to bring awareness to alleged racial discrimination in Iowa Football resulted in recent, visible changes. Even though many of the issues raised by former student-athletes since early June also appear in the much earlier task force report, it seems the mutual public outcry of players—emboldened by Daniels—was the undeniable push to action.
Daniels took part in both efforts.
“It’s easier to come in here now and just be yourself without feeling judged or criticized just looking the way you want to look or talking the way you want to talk. It’s definitely a better environment,” senior receiver Brandon Smith said on Thursday.
Perhaps the most drastic result was the firing of longtime head strength coach Chris Doyle, who agreed to a separation deal with the university last month. The settlement paid him $1.1M and provided 15 months of health insurance. Doyle was named most often in the complaints by former student-athletes, and he remained in his position for nearly 18 months after the diversity task force turned their report over to the athletic department. Barta and Ferentz agreed that parting ways with Doyle was necessary for the program to move forward, Barta said.
Next to Doyle, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has been called out the most by former players for inappropriate behavior. He has not faced any known discipline to date.
Beyond the relaxed wardrobe restrictions Ferentz instituted after the report, he also created a committee of current Black student-athletes to discuss what could be done to improve matters now and in the future.
Ferentz met with the group in August. The coach recommended then that they meet again during the bye week and after the regular season. Neither meeting occurred.
“I dropped the ball…I felt we had a pretty healthy environment, a pretty healthy culture last December. Coming off the field in California [after the Holiday Bowl], I felt pretty good about things. When we left here on March 13, I felt good about our positioning to start spring practice. A lot of things in the world have changed since then,” Ferentz said on Thursday.
On July 13, HN sent several questions for Ferentz and Barta to Iowa sports information director Steve Roe who acknowledged receipt and said he would check for answers. The athletic director and coach were asked to provide all of the changes made in the department and football program following the DTF report came back to them.
Ferentz did not provide a list of changes. HN asked Ferentz if he looked into the allegations of inequity in drug testing among his student-athletes. UI General Counsel answered that question:
“The testing agency that the University of Iowa hired to perform drug testing did not collect demographic data.”
HN also asked Barta for specifics measures his department took in response to the DTF report. We were told:
- Two UI Ph.D. students from Student Services were hired to mentor student-athletes on academic goals and transitioning to the college environment.
- Athletics conducted a departmental wide training for students, coaches, and staff in January to promote a more inclusive environment.
- From that training, student-athletes created a Hawkeye Pledge, or (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) DEI values that they want shared throughout the department. A cultural resource guide also was created to provide student-athletes of color with resources both on campus and in the community.This also serves as a resource for coaches.
- Senior management created a diversity metric, which will be used as an incentive measure to evaluate a team’s African American graduation rate.
- The DEI Accountability Board (formerly the DTF) is in the process of creating a confidential reporting mechanism for student-athletes to report concerns on their team. Even after the troubling concerns in the DTF report and last month’s public outcry, they still do not have that capability.
Earlier this month, Broderick Binns was named the Executive Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for UI athletics. The former Hawkeye defensive lineman had serve as the football program’s director of player development since 2016.
The DTF report included a communication plan calling for six meetings and a path forward release to happen March 25 through June 17, 2019, intended to inform key stakeholders about the department’s commitment to addressing the concerns. HN filed Freedom of Information requests to determine whether those meetings took place, and for the minutes and attendance.
The UI confirmed that four in-person meetings took place and one path forward email update was delivered. Minutes weren’t recorded and attendance was only taken for the April 10 head coaches meeting where a summary of the DTF action plan was presented. According to the records, that was the final department meeting regarding the DTF report and Ferentz attended.
Since the former student-athletes came out publicly last month, the university and football program have displayed more commitment to substantial change. That pressure led to Doyle’s departure. He was on paid administrative leave when current student-athletes reconvened on campus June 8. They felt relieved.
“I think I can speak for a lot of the guys that there was an atmosphere where you did have to kind of watch your back,” junior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin said during a June 12 press conference he attended with Ferentz. “You had to be on your toes at times.”
Kelly-Martin alluded to an environment much like what the DTF report described. Despite troubling concerns in that report—submitted in early 2019—this egg-shell atmosphere perceived by the athletes persisted until last month.
When Kelly-Martin read the former student-athletes accounts, essentially describing what he himself was experiencing, it moved him. He felt validated and seen. Said Kelly: “My heart was full of hope at that moment because without facing change, nothing can be changed.”