Kirk Ferentz, current Hawkeyes hope 'raw' and 'somewhat heated' team meeting is first step in addressing racial issues
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There was no shortage of adjectives to describe Monday’s volatile team meeting between current Hawkeye football players and coaches — one of the first steps in trying to rectify a once-pristine culture now tattered with systemic racism allegations.
Speaking to reporters during Friday’s news conference, Kirk Ferentz and players Ivory Kelly-Martin, Kaevon Merriweather and Keith Duncan depicted the meeting with words like “raw,” “heated” and “emotional.”
Monday was supposed to be the first day of voluntary workouts as players returned to campus amid the coronavirus pandemic — but football slid down the agenda. This day was about voicing concerns and offering solutions. Those talks spilled into Tuesday before Iowa officially began summer workouts on Wednesday.
“The players did most of the talking,” Ferentz said. “It was rough. It was powerful and productive. Everything was on the table. It got somewhat heated and somewhat emotional at times, and I think that's good.
“Tuesday, we were scheduled to work out — but we decided, again, meetings were probably best at that point. Captains reached out to us as a coaching staff and requested to see us first thing (Tuesday) morning, so they came to our 8:30 (a.m.) meeting. At that time, they first told us that they wanted to be here and be coached. … But there were more hard conversations.”
Added Duncan: “It's on us as players to really make the change. We have power. The players have the power, but we also love to voice our opinions. This isn't a one-sided thing. We voiced our opinions on Monday and so did the coaches. It was a great opportunity to just be candid and get things off our chests.
“… The majority of the people in the building are the players. So I would say we need to speak up more if we see something. I would never put all the blame on coach Ferentz. He’s not able to see all these things. We see everything. It’s on us as leaders — as captains — to speak up on what we see, what can improve. And that happened Monday.”
That message permeated Monday’s meeting and beyond, as players expressed how best to translate issues into action. No opinion went unheard.
Kelly-Martin, who further confirmed what countless former Hawkeyes illustrated as an unsettling environment for black players, said no player left Monday’s meeting feeling like their voice was limited in any way.
“With everyone voicing their opinions and having their problems out there in the open,” Kelly-Martin said, “it actually allows the staff and the players to be able to address those things.
“… The piece of communication was not there. We’re one as a team out here on the field, … but there wasn’t much communication when someone would see something bad happen or someone actually standing up for their teammates. When you have 120-something football players coming in and coming out trying to protect one guy, I feel like that’s where a lot of the power comes from. With the players being able to speak up in those meetings and being able to voice everything that we have in our minds — and coaches also being able to speak up about their own opinions — I feel like that was the biggest piece we grew on as a team.”
Absent from those meetings was strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who remains on paid administrative leave as the alleged catalyst for Iowa’s systemic racial issues.
Ferentz declined further comment on Doyle’s status Friday, out of “respect for the process.” Monday marked Raimond Braithwaite’s first official day as Iowa’s interim head strength coach.
“With everything out in the open, we're really able to, you know, be ourselves when we're walking around the weight room,” Kelly-Martin said. “We're able to be ourselves when talking to coach (Ferentz). We’re able to be ourselves in the locker room and just really being able to bond with our players. It's not just a bond between the players that's growing. It's also a bond between the coaches.”
How this cultural assessment unfolds from here will dictate public perception of what Iowa football now means. In the immediate, Monday’s no-holds-barred meeting offered a necessary forum for current players to express their frustrations without fear or intimidation lurking overhead.
That will only suffice for so long, though. While it was former Hawkeyes who ignited Iowa’s cultural evaluation, those currently wearing black and gold are tasked with carrying the torch for change.
“It's not just going to be like a one-year thing with this group that we have here,” Kelly-Martin said. “We're going to make sure that we're able to get the next step of Hawkeyes to be able to see that this place has changed. We're going to make sure that we’re able to voice to alums also this place has changed.
“There's not a single person that will tell you Hawkeye football is perfect. And while we're still not perfect now, we're just trying to get one step closer.”
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.