Former Iowa players criticize program’s culture

Several former Iowa football players are speaking out about the negative experiences they and other black players had while in the program.

Former Iowa offensive lineman James Daniels, now with the Chicago Bears, tweeted Friday night, “There are too many racial disparities in the Iowa football program. Black players have been treated unfairly for far too long.” Daniels’ tweet prompted responses from several other black players who competed for Iowa.

Former Iowa running back Toren Young, who in January declared for the NFL draft with one year of eligibility remaining, tweeted that black players at Iowa learned to “conform to white culture” when inside the football facility. He later deleted his tweet.

Former Hawkeyes defensive back Amani Hooker, now with the Tennessee Titans, tweeted, “I remember whenever walking into the facility it would be difficult for black players to walk around the facility and be themselves. As if the way you grew up was the wrong way or wasn’t acceptable & that you would be judge by that and it would impact playing time.” Former Iowa defensive back Marcel Joly tweeted, “I remember when I used to wear my tank tops in the facility, I used to get called in the coaches office because I had too much tattoos and it wasn’t the ‘Iowa culture’ or the ‘Iowa Way.'”

Former Iowa players Greg Mabin and Tevaun Smith praised Daniels and others for bringing up issues that had affected black players there.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Friday that he was “saddened” to hear the comments from former players.

“While I wish they had reached out to us directly, I am thankful that these players decided to share their experiences now,” Ferentz said in a prepared statement. “As I said earlier this week, the best way to affect change is by listening. I have started reaching out to them on an individual basis to hear their stories first hand. Making change that matters involves an open dialogue and possibly some tough conversations. I am glad to have the opportunity to do just that. As a staff and as leaders, we will listen and take to heart the messages we hear.”

During a video conference with reporters Wednesday, Ferentz said he spoke with the team about the nationwide outcry following the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. Ferentz, the longest-tenured coach in the FBS, said he plans to have a town hall discussion about racial injustice. He also said Wednesday that if Iowa players choose to kneel during the national anthem this fall, he would like every player to either kneel or stand. Ferentz in 2016 opposed players protesting during the anthem.

“Certainly, we come from different backgrounds, different beliefs, all those kinds of things,” Ferentz said Wednesday. “But we all agree on something and we all agree to work together and have respect for each other. The essence of any relationship in life is realizing we’re not always going to agree on items or topics, but can we all find mutual middle ground and have respect for each other’s opinions?”