The allegations of racial bias within the Iowa football program should empower college athletes to know that they can use their voice and their platform for change.
Within the state of Iowa.
People who haven’t been listening — and some perhaps ignoring you — are being forced to hear you now.
And it’s not just a conversation happening now within this state.
By now, if you’re reading this, you’ve heard: Black former Iowa football players spoke up on social media last week, alleging mistreatment within the program, mostly by the nation’s highest-paid strength coach.
And it was not just a few athletes, either. There were many of them, spanning different stretches of strength coach Chris Doyle’s 21-year career at Iowa.
Some said that Doyle made racially insensitive remarks. Another former Iowa player said Doyle stepped on players’ fingers before lifts.
The mother of another player said Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, head coach Kirk Ferentz’s eldest son, had made insensitive remarks as well.
The calls for an overhaul in the culture of Iowa football are impossible to ignore.
Their concerns were heard, far and wide.
Expect this conversation to only grow within the coming weeks and months.
In recent days, we’ve heard college football players call out coaches at top programs like Florida State, Clemson and Utah — highlighting anything from a head coach exaggerating his communication with his athletes after George Floyd’s death late last month at the hands of Minneapolis police to assistant coaches using racist language.
What happened at Iowa is a major part of an emerging movement of athletes using their powerful voices to call for accountability and culture change within college athletics.
Doyle, 51, who is on paid administrative leave, denied the accusations in a social media post Sunday.
“At no time have I ever crossed the line of unethical behavior or bias based upon race,” he wrote. “I do not make (racist) comments and I don’t tolerate people who do.”
Brian Ferentz has not been placed on leave and Kirk Ferentz did not believe his son’s alleged behavior was as troubling as the actions alleged to have come from Doyle.
I don’t know what an investigation Kirk Ferentz said would happen will uncover. But with so many black former players speaking out about troubling experiences at one school, it needs to be a vigorous good-faith investigation.
College football coaches and the star players they coach have a unique power. Fans live on their every word. Opposing fans twist them. Reporters use their comments to shape columns and stories.
Now, if Iowa is true to bettering its culture as a result of this weekend’s testimonials, college athletes will see their voices have the ability to effect real change.
Already a long-standing social media ban on Iowa football players was lifted. It’s unclear if Iowa planned that before this weekend’s onslaught of racial bias allegations, but it was a policy that was outdated, especially as we near name, image and likeness passage. That social media platform is an opportunity for athletes to earn money in their college careers.
But more importantly, it’s a platform through which they can make their voice heard by their large followings.
What also needs to change in all of this? Openness and transparency within many programs in the nation. We see examples of how highly secretive college football operations, in reality, produce a chilling effect on people who want to speak up.
Protecting athletes and their well-being is more important than protecting the program.
What’s happened emphasizes the need for more access to what’s going on within the locked gates of the practice field.
College football programs, most at least, control much of the information that gets out. But athletic departments everywhere need to ask themselves an important question.
Who is that really helping?
Wouldn’t the Iowa program, or any other college sports program for that matter, be better off if the sort of the alleged behavior we read about this weekend been reported on and corrected years ago?
Perhaps having a pool reporter at practices would cause a coach to think more about the words they use when talking with an athlete.
This happens too often in college athletics, where an issue is allowed to fester until it becomes a deep wound for the program, the school, its fans and the community.
These allegations against Doyle and Brian Ferentz have shown us, again, that college sports has operated in secrecy far too long.
Make no mistake: This isn’t just on the athletes. Coaches, administrators, professors, fans, the media, all of us, need to speak up for these athletes too.
To athletes all over: Keep using your voice.
People are hearing you.
And people, I hope, are changing for the better because of you.