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Attorney: Ex-Hawkeye football players moving forward with lawsuit against University of Iowa

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Eight former Iowa football players intend to move forward with a lawsuit against the university over alleged racial discrimination and mistreatment during their time in the Hawkeye program.

As part of that decision, the players have withdrawn their demands of a settlement.

The ex-players’ attorneys notified University of Iowa general counsel Carroll Reasoner of their plans Tuesday morning via email. The letter has been obtained by the Des Moines Register.

In an Oct. 5 letter sent to the university on behalf of former players Maurice Fleming, Andre Harris, Marcel Joly, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Aaron Mends, Jonathan Parker, Reggie Spearman and Akrum Wadley, Tulsa, Oklahoma-based attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons demanded $20 million in compensation and for the firings of athletics director Gary Barta, head football coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, among other structural changes aimed at prioritizing improved treatment of Black players.

Kirk Ferentz's Iowa football program is at the center of a brewing lawsuit against the university.

The university responded Oct. 18 to decline those monetary and personnel demands while defending recent changes instituted by Ferentz and Barta in the athletics department. In the time since, settlement negotiations had begun, according to the Tuesday letter from Solomon-Simmons and Des Moines attorneys Alfredo Parrish and Brandon Brown.

The letter said, “Since our settlement efforts are stalled, this letter serves as formal notice we are withdrawing our prior demand, including the $20 million monetary portion, and moving forward with filing our lawsuit.”

Solomon-Simmons on Nov. 3, the Register has learned, sent a sweeping freedom-of-information request to obtain a wide range of data from the university, including text messages and emails from current and former coaches since June 3 — around the time dozens of Black former players began speaking up on social media about their experiences in the Hawkeye program. In that FOIA request, Solomon-Simmons also requested additional information that was not included in the publicly distributed findings of the Husch Blackwell investigation into the Iowa football program: personnel reports into four unnamed coaches who had been accused of bullying or mistreatment.

“Even though we are withdrawing our offers, we are receptive to revisiting settlement discussions after filing our lawsuit,” Solomon-Simmons wrote, “and using the discovery process to depose coaches, players, recruits, and staff and review litigation related documents including the four personnel reports regarding current and former employees you have hidden from the public."

There was no time frame provided for when the lawsuit would be filed. But once it is, the university will undoubtedly try to get it dismissed. Then, unless a settlement is reached, the discovery process would become the next step for the plaintiffs' lawyers. They certainly would depose Barta, the Ferentzes and much of the coaching staff at that point.

Upon receiving a Register inquiry for comment, the UI on Tuesday afternoon replied with the following: "The stories shared by former athletes this summer resulted in a strong commitment to improve.

"To that end, the University of Iowa continues to work hard to become a more inclusive campus for all students. We appreciate the athletes using their voices, and we are on a positive path forward with our team.

"As has been stated previously, any student-athlete who left the university without obtaining a degree is welcome to return as part of the UI athletics department degree completion program, which provides financial assistance for former student-athletes."