12 Black Iowa football players 'vindicated' by settlement, lawyer says, blasts Kirk Ferentz

Chad Leistikow
Des Moines Register

The lead attorney who sued the University of Iowa for racial discrimination within the football program said his clients have been “vindicated” by the $4.175 million settlement agreement that was finalized Monday.

The 12 Black former football players were set to receive, on average, $184,200 apiece from the settlement agreement, with about $1.9 million going to legal fees.

Tulsa-based civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, in an e-mail, touted the additional measures outlined in the settlement, including $90,000 for the former players to earn their graduate degrees; paid mental-health counseling for the next year; and the assistance of Dr. Leonard Moore, founder of the National Black Student-Athlete Summit, to assist Iowa’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts in athletics through at least May of 2024.

More:$4M to be paid in Iowa football discrimination suit; Kirk Ferentz 'disappointed' in result

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The 12 former players include former running back Akrum Wadley, who ranks fifth in school history with more than 3,600 scrimmage yards and scored 35 touchdowns from 2014 to 2017, one shy of the program record.

The other players who signed the settlement agreement on Feb. 23 were Darian Cooper, Javon Foy, Maurice Fleming, Terrence Harris, Marcel Joly, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Aaron Mends, Jonathan Parker, Brandon Simon, Reggie Spearman and Laron Taylor.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in a Monday statement he and other named coaches in the lawsuit admitted no wrongdoing and looked ahead to the 2023 season.

Solomon-Simmons, in the e-mail, took exception with longtime Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz’s Monday statement that “there is no admission of any wrongdoing” from the coaches recently dismissed with prejudice from the lawsuit – Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and former strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.

“It is disappointing that in the wake of this settlement, Kirk Ferentz continues to claim that he and his coaches did nothing wrong,” said Solomon-Simmons, a former football player at Oklahoma. “This is refuted by the (July 2020) Husch Blackwell Law Firm Report that his own athletics department commissioned and paid for.

The settlement details:$4.175 million and other measures

“Kirk Ferentz's unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions and those actions of his subordinates shows that as long as Kirk Ferentz is in charge at Iowa, Black players will be at risk for harassment, bullying, race-based threats and retaliation that will deprive them of a meaningful opportunity to pursue a high-quality education while competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics.

“A racially hostile football program is Kirk Ferentz’s legacy. That is why we strongly hope that University of Iowa President Dr. Barbara J. Wilson listens to Iowa State Treasurer Roby Smith who encouraged Iowa to 're-examine relationships with (athletics director) Gary Barta, Brian Ferentz, and others named.'

“We also hope that this litigation and settlement will cause all other university athletic programs to reevaluate their policies, environment and culture to ensure that they are just, inclusive, and equitable for Black student-athletes.”

Tulsa-based civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons was among those that represented 12 Black former players that sued the state/university of Iowa.

Barta’s status has come into sharp focus this week.

Iowa’s AD since 2006 has presided over four discrimination lawsuits over the past seven years totaling $11.2 million in payouts. Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand on Monday, one of three appeals-board members for the state, voiced his opposition to using $2 million of state funds toward the settlement unless Barta was ousted from his position.

More:Why the state chose to settle, what can be done next

Though Sand was outnumbered, 2-1,  in the settlement vote, the Iowa State Legislature has taken notice. State senator Annette Sweeney took the Senate floor this week and called for Barta’s firing.

“We’ve got a stench hanging over our great university and it’s called Gary Barta,” Sweeney said. “In 16 years of his tenure, he has cost the university millions of dollars.”

The Des Moines Register reached out multiple times on Monday and Tuesday seeking comment from Wilson, the president who has the authority to remove the athletics director. Wilson has a track record of taking action; when she was the interim chancellor at the University of Illinois, she fired then-Illini AD Mike Thomas in November 2015 after an investigation into mistreatment of football and women's basketball players.

When asked for an interview with the Register to discuss the high-profile settlement and Barta’s status as AD, a spokesman for Wilson replied simply, “We are not interested.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 28 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.