IOWA CITY, Ia. — Speaking in front of a large media contingency inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta and longtime play-by-play man Gary Dolphin desperately tried to bring closure to their lingering situation.
Wednesday marked their first public comments since Dolphin was suspended for using the term "King Kong" to describe the play of Maryland's Bruno Fernando, who is black, after the Terrapins’ win over Iowa on Feb. 19. On Friday, Learfield’s Hawkeye Sports Properties suspended Dolphin for the remainder of the basketball season. It was announced prior to Wednesday’s press conference that Dolphin will be reinstated beginning with 2019 spring football practices.
Among the criticisms surrounding the incident was the lack of swift public comments from Barta. Aside from an unsigned Iowa athletics department statement released Friday afternoon supporting the suspension, there was silence.
“I’m fully aware of the desire of both (the media) and the fans to have wanted more information more quickly,” Barta said. “I apologize that it’s taken us this long, and maybe we can learn in the future some things we can do to speed this up. But I also want to give you some context.
“We did spend the entire weekend talking. Dolph reports to someone else. He’s an employee of an organization for whom we have a partnership. So throughout the weekend, we had conversations going on between he and Learfield. Learfield was talking to me. Dolph and I spoke a couple of times. And in fact, there was one day … where we both talked about how hard it was to not talk (publicly) about some of the assumptions being made and some of thoughts being made. But at the end of the day on Monday, we pretty much had this worked out.”
Barta said the joint press conference could have been held a day earlier, but the decision was made to wait a day to avoid conflicting with Iowa’s Tuesday game at Ohio State.
Dolphin began the press conference with an opening message, reiterating much of what he said in his statement after the suspension was announced. Dolphin expressed remorse and disappointment, as well as a desire to better understand unconscious biases in the future.
“I learned a lot about insensitivity in the past week, and there will be more to learn going forward,” Dolphin said. “My hope is that what happened (last) Tuesday night in the postgame show will open up additional conversations, not only here on campus but across the state and across the country.
“I will serve out the suspension, and I’m delighted that I’m able to come back for spring football — and most importantly, for football and basketball in 2019. … The great friendships I’ve developed with Gary and Learfield IMG, I don’t expect those to be discontinued in any way or interrupted.”
In describing the ensuing conversations with Learfield after the postgame comments were brought to attention, Barta said Dolphin’s first suspension this basketball season was “certainly taken into account” when determining his most recent suspension.
Dolphin was suspended by the University of Iowa and Learfield Sports for two games for critical comments he made about the basketball program and guard Maishe Dailey, which were inadvertently aired during Iowa’s Nov. 27 game against Pittsburgh.
Those comments gained additional steam when Barta subsequently said there were “ongoing tensions” between Dolphin and Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery. Some wondered if those tensions had spilled into the most recent Dolphin suspension.
But Iowa’s play-by-play man made it clear Wednesday he and McCaffery have a good relationship.
“I called Fran last Thursday night after I found out about the suspension and asked him if I could visit for five minutes,” Dolphin said. “He said sure, and I told him, ‘I’m sorry I’ve become a distraction to the basketball team. It was totally unintentional.’ We had a great conversation. He said, ‘Hey good luck. I appreciate what you do — and understand what you do — and we’ll move forward.’ I don’t have any issues with Fran.”
That description reiterated the final portion of Dolphin’s opening statement, which addressed the possibility of a force-out or removal from his play-by-play duties. He quickly shut that down.
“There’s been no attempt to fire me or remove me from this position by either the university of Learfield or Fran McCaffery,” Dolphin said. “I can promise you that has not happened in any shape, form or matter.”
Dolphin said he had hoped to return for the postseason, more so to have a chance to explain his regret directly to Iowa supporters and the Hawkeye fan base. He’ll have to wait a little longer for that opportunity.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.