The Iowa football program has reached a settlement agreement with a group of Black former players who filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination. The $4.2 million settlement was announced on Monday, March 20, 2023, after a two-year legal battle.
The lawsuit was filed in November 2020, and it accused the program of pervasive racial discrimination against Black players. The settlement involved the removal of coaches named in the lawsuit, but there was no admission of wrongdoing.
Former players who played at Iowa between 2010 and 2019 described a football program where Black players were subjected to harsher punishment than white players for the same offenses. They also claimed that Black players were treated unfairly because of how they dressed, wore their hair, or the music they enjoyed. An outside review of the football program, commissioned by the university, corroborated the players’ accounts. Head coach Kirk Ferentz acknowledged having a “blind spot” and giving too much disciplinary authority to a few members of his staff.
The settlement comes after years of tension between the university and former players. The program faced criticism in the wake of the 2020 protests against racial injustice sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Former Hawkeye James Daniels tweeted that the Iowa program was infected with racism, too. Soon after, a flood of more than 60 former players, including Wadley, described racist treatment within the program.
There are too many racial disparities in the Iowa football program. Black players have been treated unfairly for far too long.— James Daniels (@jamsdans) June 6, 2020
Following the announcement of the settlement, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz released a statement expressing his disappointment with the decision.
He claimed that the settlement was made without the input of the coaches who were mentioned in the suit. Ferentz lamented that the program has been unfairly and negatively impacted by these allegations and shifted the focus to Iowa’s upcoming season.
While the settlement is a step towards resolving the issue, it raises questions about the program’s commitment to accountability and equality. Many feel that the settlement is an attempt to sweep the issue under the rug, as it does not require the university to take any action to address the racial discrimination alleged by the former players.
To get an insider perspective on the issue, I met with Iowa’s senior Linebacker, Jay Higgins.
He alluded to a lot of positive change within the program and felt comfortable being part of it. “When I got there, things had already shifted or changed. So for me, I felt comfortable. I was accepted with open arms. There were no real problems.” said Higgins. When asked about being supported by the coaching staff, Higgins said “We just talk about social issues and I feel like not a lot of football teams are challenging societal norms like that. Just being able to hear my coach understand what I face as an African American, that he’s aware of it, makes me feel more comfortable. Allows me to step out of my shell, and I think that’s important.”
Despite the positive changes, the university has rejected some demands made by the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Damario Solomon-Simmons, including tuition waivers for Black football players who did not graduate while playing for Ferentz, annual anti-racist training for athletic staff, mental health therapy for players who need it, and other measures.
As the Iowa football program moves forward, it remains to be seen what actions the university will take to address the racial discrimination allegations and ensure a more equitable future.