Kirk Ferentz addresses George Floyd's death with Iowa football players: 'Change will begin with us'
While Iowa athletics director Gary Barta and men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery have publicly addressed their feelings regarding the death of George Floyd, the dean of college football coaches had been notably silent.
However, 22nd-year Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has indeed privately addressed the matter with his football team and staff. In a transcript of a Zoom call obtained Monday night by the Register, Ferentz expressed he was heartbroken and angry about watching video of Floyd being starved of air and ultimately killed by a white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck.
Ferentz's voice carries weight in this state; it has for decades.
Here is what Ferentz told the team Monday.
"I want to start this meeting by talking about the events of the past week, and the reactions that have taken place here on campus, in the Midwest and around the world. I spoke about this on the voice mail you all received Saturday morning, but I feel like there is more to say.
"Some of you have commented that I haven’t had anything posted on our social media channels yet. That is deliberate. I want my first conversations about this to be with you and your families. Then it can be shared with the outside world. But you are always my first priority.
"I’m going to talk about this with you now, and then you’ll be getting an email from me so you can read them again. You can share that with your parents, family and friends if you wish. As you know, a man named George Floyd died in Minneapolis last week. He was arrested by police for suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. While he was handcuffed and laying on the ground, a police officer kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck. Mr. Floyd pleaded and said he could not breathe. The officer and the three other officers did nothing. Nothing. Mr. Floyd cried out for his mother. And the police officers did nothing. George Floyd later died.
"I have watched that video. It is brutal and painful. It’s heartbreaking. And the lack of action by the other officers is maddening and makes them complicit.
"George Floyd’s death sparked outrage and calls for change nationwide. You can’t be human and not be affected by that video. I’m sure that many of you felt the same way I did — heartbroken. Frustrated. Angry. There have been racial problems in this country for generations. There has been discrimination, resentment and mistrust for a long time. I hoped by now we would be better at relationships when it comes to race — but this week shows we have a long way to go.
"I am a white football coach. I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be pulled over for driving while black or to have people cross the street because they don’t want to walk alongside of you.
"But some of your coaches have shared that experience. I know it is real and it happens. If things are going to change, it will be up to all of us as individuals to be a part of the change. As a team, we can help lead it. Here is how we’re going to make an impact — in this time of such anguish and emotion, we are going to be better listeners. Not just hearing from others but listening and trying our best to understand where another opinion is coming from.
"In our program, we talk about preparing to be the best. Here’s the truth — that’s not just as a player on a Saturday. We’re all here to prepare you to be the best version of yourself. Teaching all of you — our players how to be an impactful member of society. These are painful times for our nation and community. One of the most important traits a leader can demonstrate is the ability to listen. To always have an attitude of learning.
"In our program we will use this time to listen, understand and grow as individuals and as a team.
"Change will begin with us."
Also Monday, McCaffery and Barta shared comments via Iowa Hawkeyes Twitter accounts.
“I am heartbroken over the recent events happening across our country," McCaffery said. "These events highlight the fact that systemic racial injustice demands change. As a society, we must stand together for equality and human rights.
“As someone who is in a unique position to coach and mentor young men from all walks of life, I am particularly angered for my student-athletes of color. We live in a country where everyday life poses a risk to them. I worry about their well-being — both physical and emotional.
“Positive change only takes place through action. We must respect and support one another to help build a better future.”
Barta was outspoken in February 2019 about unconscious bias and racism that was negatively impacting the University of Iowa campus after the suspension of broadcaster Gary Dolphin.
Here is what he said Monday about Floyd's death.
"As I shared with our staff (Sunday), we need to re-commit ourselves to speaking out against racism," Barta said, "and to make sure every University of Iowa student-athlete, coach and staff member feels safe, supported and that they have a voice.
“I’d ask you to join me in coming together to love, care, listen and always do the right thing. Individually, one person at a time, we can make a change.
“The video written by our student-athletes this past spring says it best. Be a HAWKEYE.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.