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Former Hawkeye football players see positive change underway after probe into racial biases

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Former Iowa football players have been watching with keen interest what has taken place within the Hawkeye program the past two months.

In some cases, they were the ones pushing for change, with many taking to social media to describe a culture that they felt treated Black athletes unfairly. Others spoke privately with head coach Kirk Ferentz in conversations he has recalled as both revealing and moving.

“As a coach, I've always considered myself first and foremost a teacher. In the past few weeks, I've been committed to being a student,” Ferentz said Thursday, after a 28-page review by the law firm Husch Blackwell revealed that biases had been allowed to fester within the Hawkeye football complex. “I've spent a lot of time listening and learning from experiences of many of our former players and current players.”

The past two months have revealed a troubling portrait of the way many Black players felt they were mistreated within Kirk Ferentz's Iowa football program. But former players are largely hopeful that positive change is underway for a team they still root for.

The Register reached out to several of Ferentz’s former players to get their reaction to what they read and heard Thursday. Four of them provided written statements, each expressing optimism that appropriate changes are underway.

These are their words:

Derrell Johnson-Koulianos; Youngstown, Ohio; wide receiver from 2007-10

“I think the program is going to be fine moving forward. The press conference felt sincere and I think the necessary changes are in motion. However, I do find it ironic a 64-year-old man won’t forgive me for something I did when I was 20, but he’s forgiven for what he allowed inside the program for 20 years. The Orange Bowl reunion (for the 10-year anniversary of the 2009 Hawkeye team) disinvite hurt me, but I will forgive and move on. I will continue to root for the program as I always have. My hope is the changes made will lead to a more inclusive environment for all players that enter the program.”

(Editor's note: On Friday afternoon, Ferentz issued a response to the Register about this statement from Johnson-Koulianos: "I have not seen or had a conversation with Derrell since his legal issues prior to our bowl game in 2010. It's a conversation I would take part in should I hear from Derrell. To the best of my knowledge, he has not reached out to me since that time.")

MORE:Kirk Ferentz vows change after football inquiry finds 'Iowa way' led to systemic racism, player mistreatment

Christian Kirksey; St. Louis; linebacker from 2010-13

“I believe the issues are out on the table and are being addressed as we speak. The current players are the No. 1 priority right now, and I believe the program will be great for them and those to come. I respect everyone that spoke up and I appreciate the program for listening. We all want to see Iowa excel, and I think we are headed in the right direction.”

CHAD LEISTIKOW:Ferentz stakes legacy on being his own solution

Jordan Lomax; Upper Marlboro, Maryland; defensive back from 2011-15

“I thought Husch Blackwell did a great job investigating the report. More importantly, I am happy for the current and future players within the program, because those are the guys that matter right now. Iowa football is headed in the right direction, and I am thankful for all the former players that were catalyst to the change.”

MORE FROM LOMAX: Why Hawkeye alum supports Kirk Ferentz

James Morris; Solon; linebacker from 2010-13

“I can’t recall any of the specific instances being named, but that in no way invalidates those men’s feelings. I’m encouraged by the way current players have handled themselves during this process; on social media and in press conferences. I think all Hawkeyes can use this moment to grow and make our football program, and our university, that much stronger.

"Given the scope of the investigation, I’m not in a position to certify its degree of accuracy. However, I emphatically believe Kirk Ferentz is capable of moving this program forward. I know first-hand that Coach is capable of adapting his leadership for the betterment of players. I’m actually excited to see how good our program can be coming out of this, and I think Hawkeye fans should be too!”

SUBSCRIBER PODCAST: Conclusions from the football investigation

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.

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