Iowa taxpayers to pay $2 million to help University of Iowa athletic department settle lawsuit filed by former football players who allege racial discrimination existed in Coach Kirk Ferentz’s program, a state board decided in a vote Monday.
The state appeal board voted 2-1 to approve the use of taxpayer funds for half of the $4.175 million settlement over the objection of state auditor Rob Sand, a board member who said sporting director Gary Barta should be fired. for a series of lawsuits ending in settlements under his direction.
“I can’t imagine a private company that would still have someone in charge after four discrimination lawsuits under that person’s leadership,” Sand said at a press conference ahead of the vote. “The athletic department, they have the funds for that. The broadcast deal brings in tens of millions of dollars every year. I don’t know why they can’t cover up their own mistakes and pay for their own mistakes instead of letting the taxpayers do it.
The lawsuit filed in November 2020 involved former players, including former running back Akrum Wadley and career receptions leader Kevonte Martin-Manley. They alleged they were demeaned by racial slurs, forced to abandon black hairstyles, fashion and culture to fit the “Iowa Way” promoted by Ferentz, and retaliated for being expressed.
A message was left for Tulsa-based attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of a dozen black former players.
In response to a request for comment from Barta, the athletic department sent a statement attributed to him, saying the department “remains committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for every student-athlete and staff member involved in our program. “.
“The Hawkeyes’ overriding goal of winning every time we compete, graduating every student-athlete who comes to Iowa, and doing it right, remains our goal,” the statement read.
Barta has served as Iowa’s athletic director since 2006. In a statement to the appeal board, Sand noted four discrimination cases totaling nearly $7 million in damages under Barta’s watch. The biggest of these was $6.5 million to settle a lawsuit in 2017 over the firing of former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum. The money used to pay for this settlement came from the athletic department, which does not rely on taxpayer funding.
State Treasurer Roby Smith and Department of Management Director Kraig Paulsen are the other two members of the Appeal Board.
Paulsen, before voting yes, said it is not for the board to play a role in Barta’s employment status.
“We are here to make a decision as to what is in the best interest of (Iowa) and it seems to me that, on the recommendation of the attorney general, that is the wise decision to make,” Paulsen said, according to Des. Monks. KCCI television channel.
Barta, Ferentz, his son and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and former strength coach Chris Doyle were dismissed from the trial last week, signaling that a proposed settlement was imminent.
Kirk Ferentz said in a statement that he was “very disappointed” with how the case was resolved. He said negotiations took place between the plaintiffs’ attorney and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which represents the university and the state’s board of trustees.
“These discussions took place entirely without the knowledge or consent of the coaches who were named in the lawsuit,” Ferentz said. “In fact, the originally named parties disagree with the decision to settle, fully believing the case would have been dismissed with prejudice before trial.”
Ferentz added that “as part of the settlement, the named coaches were removed from the trial and there is no admission of wrongdoing.”
The deal calls for $2.85 million to be split between 12 players and $1.9 million to go to the Solomon-Simmons Act for fees and expenses.
In addition, the university would pay $90,000 to support plaintiffs’ graduate or vocational school tuition, with no individual receiving more than $20,000, and provide mental health counseling to plaintiffs until March 15, 2024. The athletic department is also required to hire the university. of Texas black studies professor Leonard Moore to oversee a five-year diversity, equity and inclusion plan.
The players first demanded $20 million in damages along with the dismissals of Barta and the Ferentzes.
Doyle agreed to leave Iowa five months before the lawsuit was filed after numerous accusations that the longtime coach used his position to bully and disparage former players, especially those who are black. Iowa agreed to pay Doyle $1.1 million as part of a resignation agreement.
In 2020, ahead of the trial, the university hired law firm Husch Blackwell to review the program after dozens of mostly black former players took to social media to allege racial disparities and mistreatment. Their activism came as protests against racial injustice swept the country following the death of George Floyd and after attempts to raise concerns within the program resulted in only minor changes.
The report says some of the football program rules “perpetuate racial or cultural bias and diminish the value of cultural diversity”.
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