IOWA CITY, Iowa – Just listen to their stories. That’s what they’re asking.
They’re not demanding you believe them. They’re sharing their experiences through their eyes, nobody else’s.
It’s a process long overdue, not only at Iowa and within other college football programs across the land, but in this county. Black voices and those of all the marginalized must be heard if we’re moving closer to equality for all.
Former Hawkeye student-athletes began telling their stories on June 3, when James Daniels kicked off a conversation many of them had been having for years. Inside the walls of their facility, an inclusive culture was missing. Athletic director Gary Barta and head coach Kirk Ferentz have acknowledged as much.
While the public is learning of the issue for the first time, Iowa knew there was a problem early last year when a diversity task force filed a report. Barta admitted that the school did not do enough in addressing it and didn’t do it fast enough.
It’s been a year and a half. Around that time, Daniels also met with Barta while back in Iowa City earning his degree, sharing his concerns about mistreatment of student-athletes. He had left early for the NFL following three years in college.
Maybe if those problems were handled firmly and quickly in early 2019, we don’t reach the point where more than 60 student-athletes and counting air their grievances publicly. A number of the claims in the full diversity task force report specifically matched some of these charges coming out now.
Players not only wanted to be heard, they wanted action. When they didn’t get it, they moved to demanding it.
Doing that publicly comes with drawbacks. And we’re seeing the harshest of them, people on the outside judging their credibility, accepting the stories from student-athletes they believe and dismissing the others. They shout “these guys are hurting the movement” of the individuals they find credible.
That happened Thursday when Pre-Postgame CEO Robert T Green went on local radio to answer questions about a group of former Iowa student-athletes and their families he represents. It included standout running back Akrum Wadley, who in ’17 became the first Hawkeye to rush for at least 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons since Fred Russell in ’02-03.
The consensus from fans who listed to the interview was that Green failed his group. The radio hosts repeatedly asked what the “end game” was for his clients. And that’s been asked for by fans.
These student-athletes are being met with public skepticism because there’s a belief they’re moving towards a class-action law suit. Green, who is not a lawyer but an advisor, says it’s up to the families to decide that. It does not sound like that decision has been made, but we don’t know. He said they have legal counsel.
Green was asked if he is writing the statements being released by the former student-athletes or telling them what to say. He said his company reads the stories but the players write them.
Admittedly, the exchanges during the radio interview sounded combative at times. However, Green clearly stated on multiple occasions that his main purpose right now was to amplify the voices of the former Iowa student-athletes he represents. Those guys wanted to be heard.
And that’s where the focus should be. Don’t be distracted by your feelings about Green, who is representing a small portion of the accusers. And a potential law suit shouldn’t be used as a vehicle to completely discredit these student-athletes. If it comes to that, it will be sorted out in court.
Listen. Just listen right now. It’s human nature to judge, but don’t tear these guys down on social media or elsewhere in public. These student-athletes deserve to be heard after busting their asses for your viewing pleasure.
That’s not easy. Hearing story after story, day after day, can wear on people. As a fan, you’re wanting to arrive at that “end game.” Why not just release all of these stories at once, you may ask?
We don’t know the answer to that. Perhaps each student-athlete wants an individual moment for telling his story instead of it potentially being lost in a sea of voices. If that process makes others uncomfortable at times, maybe it’s the right approach.
Green said his clients have not heard from law firm hired by the University of Iowa to investigate allegations against the program. Perhaps if they did, maybe these student-athletes would tell their stories to the firm instead of publicly.
Please know, all of the student-athletes telling their stories are watching how Iowa fans react. After being attacked for speaking up, Daniels certainly is paying attention.
Devonte Young, who Kirk and his wife, Mary Ferentz, stood up for during Senior Day ceremonies in November at Kinnick Stadium is supporting his friend and teammate, Wadley, who is naming names now after not doing so earlier this month. He’s not asking for anybody’s job.
There’s also a natural tendency to stand up for Ferentz and his program. The 21-year veteran can only say so much during the independent investigation. It can feel like piling on, but it should also be pointed out that there are former student-athletes advocating for him and their voices should be heard as well.
A number of players who are accusing the program of mistreatment also are complimenting it for development. Both can be true.
And remember, an extensive report by a diversity task force at the university was submitted to the Iowa athletic department a year and a half ago, before all of these former student-athletes came out publicly. As Barta said, the university didn’t do enough to address concerns and didn’t do it fast enough.
Each student-athlete story coming out now puts more pressure on the university to take swift, meaningful and impactful action. Everyone who cares about Iowa football, truly cares, wants that.
So, don’t search for ways to dismiss them. Don’t allow the minutiae to distract you. These guys deserve to be heard.