Ferentz, Barta Vow To Keep Dialogue Going

Adam Hensley

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta and head football coach Kirk Ferentz highlighted the athletic department's diversity task force findings in 2019 when addressing the current independent review into allegations of racial disparities within the football program.

The task force, now tabbed the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion accountability group (DEI), provided plenty of insight to troubling trends within the athletic department.

Ferentz, during his press conference on Thursday after the release of the independent review by the Husch Blackwell law firm, acknowledged again he “dropped the ball” when it came to following up with his team's leadership group last season after changing some of the program's rules.

That, he said, can't happen again.

“I've requested that of our leadership group as well as the advisory committee, to hold my feet to the fire,” Ferentz said said. “Let's make sure we're staying on track. Let's make sure we are not having five meetings and then dismissing it, that type of thing. I think we've all learned a great deal in the last two months, but it can't be yesterday's news. We need to keep the dialogue going.”

Husch Blackwell’s report on the task force

According to the task force, there are:

  • Perceived power differentials between students and coaches/leadership that affects communication
  • Perceived differential treatment in disciplinary measures
  • Team policies that limit personal authenticity
  • Recruiting process promoted family atmosphere but did not inform players of required conformity
  • Disconnections with the support system that recruited them

One employee who participated in the task force identified a bullying culture within the football program. Another said that Black players felt unwelcomed. The second employee noted that the only specific comments they heard were in reference to the weight room.

The review stated that most of the coaches and players interviewed by Husch Blackwell “knew very little” about the 2018-19 review. Some coaches were aware of the report, but had not been involved in meetings.

A former player stated that Kirk Ferentz was aware of the concerns, made notes, and met with Black players, but coaches “did not believe there was a problem.”

Ferentz told investigators that once he read the Task Force’s findings, he shared the relevant information with his staff. Ferentz held a meeting with 10 players to discuss the findings but told Husch Blackwell that he did not remember anyone raising concerns during that meeting.

“I thought we addressed what we needed to address,” Ferentz said Thursday. "...You've got to ask better probing questions to get more honest feedback so people can feel comfortable telling you about what needs to be addressed, and again, we're getting that right now, but we need to continue on that path as we move forward.”

What’s happened since June?

After the allegations of racial disparities were made in early June, there have been numerous discussions with current and former athletes on their complaints regarding the football program, and the coaches and the current team have met several times to discuss feedback.

Iowa’s football Leadership Group grew from 12 members to 24 in order to “add more diversity in race and class rank,” and Broderick Binns was appointed as the Executive Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion.

Ferentz created the former student-athlete advisory committee, and the group has met five times.

Additionally, the Athletic Department held a pair of “Town Hall” virtual meetings. In these sessions, topics ranged from education, listening, and social justice issues.

Anonymous player surveys

The football program conducts end-of-season anonymous surveys. Here’s what they reported:

2018/19

  • The strength and conditioning staff received no “poor” or “below average” ratings
  • More than 90% said they would be comfortable approaching the coach with personal and team concerns
  • More than 90% felt comfortable going to assistant coaches
  • Four players said there were subject to bullying or hazing by the coaching staff, 95.7% said they were not.

2019/20

  • The strength and conditioning staff received no “poor” or “below average” ratings
  • 89.2% said they would be comfortable approaching the coach with personal and team concerns
  • 91.18% felt comfortable going to assistant coaches
  • Two players said they were subject to bullying or hazing by the coaching staff, 98.04% said they were not

“I've listened and we've had several conversations about his desire to change,” Barta said. “And so in this case immediately took responsibility, immediately started working through and finding out where we needed to head, and then as I mentioned at the outset, I believed this would be the case, but I was very pleased to see that the conversations with former and current players confirmed what I believed, that Kirk is a leader that can move forward with this program.”

The program is moving in a positive direction

Husch Blackwell’s findings note that “players and coaches cited recent changes as positive and hopeful signs that the program culture is improving.”

Current players feel comfortable speaking out and addressing themselves, according to the report, and they noted an increased sense of unity. Additionally, when bringing up social issues to coaches, the players said they listen.

For additional content, follow Adam Hensley on Twitter @A_Hens83.

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