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Kirk Ferentz 'disappointed' by threat of lawsuit from group of former Iowa football players

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said Sunday evening that he can't comment on specific accusations of racial bias made by eight of his former players, pointing instead to changes he's made "to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all of our student athletes."

Earlier Sunday, the Register reported that eight Black former Hawkeye football players had retained a lawyer who sent the university a letter seeking financial compensation for what they claim were deliberate acts of racial bias they experienced in their time in Ferentz's program. 

"I am disappointed to receive this type of demand letter. Due to the threat of litigation, I am not able to address the specific comments made by our former players," Ferentz said in response, in a statement released by the university.

The changes he said have been made include an expanded leadership council of current players and the formation of an advisory group of former Hawkeyes which is intended to help the 22-year head coach create a more equitable culture.

"I am deeply committed to helping everyone who joins the Hawkeye Football program reach their full potential on and off the field. My focus is now on our current players who are preparing for our first game this Saturday,” Ferentz's statement concluded.

It seemed likely that legal action would occur ever since dozens of former Hawkeye players took to social media this summer to detail what they said was mistreatment in Ferentz's program based on their race. That prompted an investigation of the program and a 28-page report by the law firm Husch Blackwell that indicated the players' claims were largely valid, although Kirk Ferentz was not seen as primarily responsible.

More:A look inside the investigation of the Iowa Hawkeye football program

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz speaks during a Hawkeye football media day news conference, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

Eight of Ferentz's former players, all of them Black, are being represented by Oklahoma-based lawyer Damario Solomon-Simmons, seeking $20 million from the university over what they claim was a pattern of intentional racial discrimination during their years in his program. They also want Ferentz and his son, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, removed from their jobs. They ask the same for athletic director Gary Barta.

Other demands include a permanent Black senior administrator within the Iowa athletic department to support minority athletes and for all staff to undergo annual training to improve racial awareness.

Iowa president Bruce Harreld, who earlier this month announced his impending retirement, denied the demands from the former Hawkeyes, saying the university has already taken steps to address concerns raised about inequitable treatment of Black football players. Those include the dismissal of longtime strength coach Chris Doyle,  the promotion of former Hawkeye player Broderick Binns to head Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Iowa athletic department and the two changes Ferentz mentioned. Current players said last week that the climate within the program has improved.

Iowa is scheduled to open a delayed 2020 season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Purdue.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.