The University of Iowa said it would not pay a $ 20 million claim from eight black ex-footballers in compensation for alleged racial discrimination they faced while playing for the Hawkeyes.
The college attorney’s office responded on Sunday to a 21-page certified letter dated Oct. 5 from civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons of Tulsa, Oklahoma, representing the players.
The players also called for the firing of head football coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive line coach Brian Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta. Solomon-Simmons’s letter stated that if demands are not met on Monday, the former players are willing to file a lawsuit seeking damages for the unlawful assault they say they endured.
Solomon-Simmons did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press asking for comment.
The Des Moines (Iowa) Register first reported the university’s demands and response.
The former players are Akrum Wadley, Aaron Mends, Jonathan Parker, Marcel Joly, Maurice Fleming, Reggie Spearman, Kevonte Martin-Manley and Andre Harris.
University president Bruce Harreld said in a statement that the school appreciated that the former players shared their insights about their experiences and that many of their concerns have been discussed and addressed.
“There are several demands in the letter and we are proud of the efforts that have been made so far,” said Harreld. We have a path forward that includes ideas and recommendations from many current and former students that aim to make the University of Iowa a more inclusive and better place to learn, grow and compete as an athlete. However, the university rejects the demands for money and staff changes. ”
The university hired law firm Husch Blackwell in June to overhaul the football program after dozens of former players, most of them Black, spoke out on social media about racial inequalities and assault. Their activism came when protests against racial injustice swept the nation after George Floyd’s death, and after attempts to raise concerns within the program resulted in only minor changes. The athletic department cut ties with Chris Doyle, a long-time strength and conditioning coach, who received $ 1.1 million in severance pay. Several players had accused Doyle of making racist remarks when addressing them, an accusation he denied.
Brian Ferentz, Kirk Ferentz’s son, is also said to have abused players.
The review, which included interviews with 111 current and former players and employees, found that the cultural issues were systematic. According to the report, many black players did not feel welcome or supported in the program. Players reported that they were not allowed to wear do-rags, tank tops, earrings or other jewelry in the football building for a long time and were discouraged from getting tattoos or having certain hairstyles.
Black players said they felt singled out, isolated and forced to suppress their personalities. Ferentz scrapped the rules for jewelry and hats and instructed his staff not to criticize hairstyles or tattoos last year after an athletics department review raised concerns about racial bias.
Solomon-Simmons’ letter asked the university to make a $ 10 million payment “ for the loss of earning capacity, loss of professional opportunity, defamation, pain and suffering, mental illness, mental distress, PTSD, humiliation, and general emotional distress that our customers have experienced. In addition, the letter asked for $ 10 million to establish a fund set up for athletes, not including the eight former football payers, to compensate them “ for the discrimination and persistent serious and ubiquitous acts that constitute deliberate discrimination where The defendants intended to treat African Americans differently. ”
Also asked for, among others: attorney fees, mandatory annual anti-racist training for all athletics department employees, creation of a permanent Senior Black Male Administrator position, and tuition waiver for black athletes who visited Iowa during Ferentz’s 22 years and did not graduate.
Carroll Reasoner, UI vice president for legal affairs and general counsel, wrote in her response to Solomon-Simmons that steps have been taken to create a better environment for black athletes. Reasoner pointed out that Broderick Binns, a black former Iowa soccer player, was recently appointed as the director of diversity, equality and inclusion in athletics.
Reasoner also said former black player David Porter leads an advisory committee “to improve the football climate” and that coaches and staff receive training on diversity issues.
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