Lawsuit: 13 former Hawkeye football players claim Kirk Ferentz allowed racist culture

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Thirteen former Iowa football players, all of them Black, have filed a lawsuit claiming they were the victims of “targeted discriminatory behavior,” and that longtime coach Kirk Ferentz enabled it.

The 70-page suit was filed Thursday in the Iowa District Court for Polk County and seeks compensation for suffering constitutional and civil rights violations, attorneys’ fees and “such relief as the court deems just and equitable” under eight counts. The lawsuit also is asking for the university to add personnel and training designed to rid the football program of racial biases.

Named as defendants are the University of Iowa; the Board of Regents; athletic director Gary Barta; Kirk Ferentz and his son, Brian, who is the Hawkeye offensive coordinator; former strength coach Chris Doyle; and current strength coach Raimond Braithwaite.

The attorneys for the former players are Alfredo Parrish and Brandon Brown of Des Moines.

The lawsuit has been expected for weeks but includes five additional plaintiffs and new allegations.

“Under the watchful eye of Kirk Ferentz, Iowa football coaching staff utilized racially discriminatory and punitive means to force African-American athletes into strict compliance with the program’s racist philosophy that effectively stripped away every cultural aspect of being an African-American,” the suit claims.

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz spent much of his summer addressing complaints by former players that racial bias existed in his program. Ferentz is now one of the defendants listed in an eight-count lawsuit filed by 13 former Hawkeyes, all of them Black.

The thirteen former Hawkeye players, and the years they were in the Hawkeye program, are Akrum Wadley (2013-17), Jonathan Parker (2013-16), Marcel Joly (2014-17), Aaron Mends (2014-18), Maurice Fleming  (2012-15), Reggie Spearman (2013), Kevonte Martin-Manley (2010-15), Darian Cooper (2011-16), Laron Taylor (2012-14), Brandon Simon (2016-19), Javon Foy (2019-20), Andre Harris (2013) and Terrence Harris (2014-16).

Only three of them stayed at Iowa for their entire college football eligibility.

The lawsuit mentions many of the findings of a summer review of Ferentz’s program by the law firm Husch Blackwell. That review arose after dozens of former Hawkeyes took to social media in June to complain about mistreatment during their time at Iowa. Most of those former players were Black. Doyle, who was hired by Ferentz in 1999, was frequently singled out for bullying and harassing Black players.

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

The university parted ways with Doyle in June, buying out his contract for $1.1 million. Doyle has denied any wrongdoing. Braithwaite, a longtime Doyle assistant, is the interim strength coach and said in October that he never heard his former boss make a racial comment. Braithwaite is Black.

More:Iowa announces separation agreement with former strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle

The lawsuit paints both men as complicit in instilling the so-called “Iowa way” in players. The suit calls that a “dog whistle” phrase that was used to strip Black players of their cultural norms in order to fit in with a locker room that skewed toward white customs. That included ridicule over hairstyles, the way the players dressed and talked.

“African-American athletes were more harshly, if not exclusively, punished or reprimanded for menial ‘disruptions’ like singing, dancing or ‘looking funny,’” the lawsuit alleges.

The result, the lawsuit claims, was an atmosphere that deprived Black athletes of the ability to enjoy their sport and pursue the education that coaches promised them during the recruiting process.

That, in turn, led to a graduation rate of Black male athletes at Iowa of just 42%, compared with a 77% rate for athletes overall at Iowa. The lawsuit also alleges a large disparity in transfer rates among Black and white football players.

Ferentz has acknowledged that there were problems in his program, but that he was unaware of the extent of them, and that he is now taking steps to make things equitable for all of his players.

The first seven counts of the civil lawsuit are seeking redress under the federal law known as Title VI. This states: “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

The eighth count is for breach of contract, claiming that the university, Barta and the coaches are at fault for not taking action when the players came forward with grievances about racial mistreatment. The players say they made Kirk Ferentz aware of what was taking place in his program, but he made no substantive changes.

The lawsuit also asks that the university be compelled to create a panel of Black football players and “experienced anti-racist professionals” to monitor the coaching staff, add a senior Black male administrator in the athletic department whose role would be to support Black athletes, have annual anti-racist training for athletic staff, and for tuition waivers for any Black players in the Ferentz era who left before earning a degree.

The plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial. Coleman McAllister is listed as the judge.

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