Let Iowa serve as a reminder that we only know what programs want us to see
On Saturday night, Des Moines Register columnist Chad Leistikow was asked why despite covering Iowa football for 20 years, he didn’t foresee the accusations that several former players made against strength coach Chris Doyle for promoting a culture of racism and bullying in the program.
Leistikow’s response said it all.
As I apologized to a former black player last night for not knowing such things were going on & that I ultimately failed him on this, he interjected to lift me up. “Don’t be sorry,” he told me, “they only let you see what they want you to see.”
I will try to be better.
Think about that for a second.
Leistikow is good at his job. Darn good. He breaks news, he offers criticism and he provides readers insights into the program like few people do. And even he, as someone who devoted as much time and energy into covering the Kirk Ferentz era as anyone, didn’t know what allegedly was being covered up. That is, dozens of black former Iowa players felt that they were mistreated during their time in Kirk Ferentz’s program.
There are too many racial disparities in the Iowa football program. Black players have been treated unfairly for far too long.
— James Daniels (@jamsdans) June 6, 2020
We didn’t see tweets like that from former Iowa players until they took to social media following Ferentz’s appearance on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, wherein he praised his coaching staff’s open communication with players about racial issues. At the time, there wasn’t any reason to question that comment.
Again, this was Iowa. You know, the program that had the longest-tenured coach in FBS (Ferentz) and the highest-paid strength coach in the country (Doyle). Few places, if any, embodied stability like Iowa, where 2-star recruits went on to become NFL players on a seemingly annual basis.
So when Daniels got the ball rolling and more former Iowa players spoke out against Doyle, it took off. It quickly became clear that they had previously held back feelings of mistreatment until they finally felt like they had the support to use their platform to shed light on the ongoing issue.
What should all of that tell us? They only let us see what we want to see. As college football fans, this shows why we need to reprogram our brains.
We know nothing. At least we should assume we do.
If your first instinct upon hearing those allegations against Doyle was to say “there’s no way that can be true,” that’s a problem. If that’s based on the fact that by all accounts, Doyle has been at the foundation of Iowa’s aforementioned 21st century stability, that’s an even bigger problem.
Yes, Doyle is innocent until proven guilty. That’s why he was placed on administrative leave and not fired immediately after dozens of former Iowa players took to social media to voice their frustration about the culture. Having said that, it’s hard to envision him keeping his job with so many willing to speak out against him.
Let’s get back to that original point. The knee-jerk fan reaction of “there’s no way that can be true.”
Think about how many times that was said by fans of major college football programs in the 2010s.
There was the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, where fans refused to believe that Joe Paterno could have knowingly allowed such a predator to exist within his program. We had the allegations of covering up cultures of sexual assault at places like Baylor and Michigan State, where plenty of fans defended successful, God-fearing coaches in Art Briles and Mark Dantonio.
Speaking of God-fearing coaches, news of Hugh Freeze’s dealings with an escort service shocked those of us who were led to believe the Ole Miss coach was the prototypical Southern family man. Maybe it didn’t shock people to see Bobby Petrino injured from a motorcycle accident involving a mistress who he had given $20,000 to, but how many fans still defended the coach’s character following his 11-win season?
When police reports detailed allegations of domestic abuse from former Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith, how many people were quick to defend him because of his track record of recruiting elite players to come to Columbus?
And on the flip side, go back and read the fan reactions from player mistreatment scandals that got coaches fired at Maryland, Illinois and Indiana during the 2010s. Was there a knee-jerk reaction to defend DJ Durkin, Tim Beckman or Kevin Wilson? Or were we more willing to accept allegations because they weren’t nearly as successful as their peers? I’d argue the latter was true.
That’s a problem.
It’s a problem if our knee-jerk reaction to players sharing stories of mistreatment is to assume that we know more than they do. We don’t. It doesn’t matter if we’ve watched every game, press conference and hype video. And from the media side, it doesn’t matter if we’ve had a front-row seat for all of those things. There will always be things we don’t see because we don’t have 24/7 access.
We only see what they want us to see.
When we had access, we heard black and white players praise Doyle’s program for preparing them for the NFL, and so we were only led to believe that he did it “the right way.”
If you’re a fan who’s still skeptical because of the timing of these allegations against Doyle and Ferentz, consider this. People wrote off Iowa receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos in 2013 when he accused Doyle and Ferentz of mistreatment (among those incidents was the story of Doyle making him run with a trash can over his head). It was easy to dismiss him. He was kicked off the team for drugs. If anyone had an axe to grind, it was him.
Seven years later, Johnson-Koulianos shared many of the same stories of mistreatment. He waited until after dozens of former Iowa players shared their feelings on the culture within the walls of the program. Whether you agree with everything he alleged or not because of how things ended for him, they’re certainly being examined with a new perspective after seeing all of these black former Iowa players speak out. Tell me why these former Iowa players in the NFL would have an axe to grind:
- James Daniels, 2nd-round pick in 2018
- Carl Davis, 3rd-round pick in 2015
- Mike Daniels, 4th-round pick in 2012
- Amani Hooker, 4th-round pick in 2019
- Jaleel Johnson, 4th-round pick in 2017
- Desmond King, 5th-round pick in 2017
- Geno Stone, 7th-round pick in 2020
There were also plenty of calls for change from former Hawkeyes who didn’t follow the Iowa City-to-NFL Draft path, such as Tevaun Smith, Jordan Lomax, Faith Ekakitie and Manny Rugamba. Those aren’t so easy to write off.
If you’re not a fan of players using their platforms to pull the curtain on college programs, well, the 2020s might not be for you.
Last week, Florida State captain Marvin Wilson went on Twitter and called out head coach Mike Norvell for lying about “1-on-1 communication” with players about racial injustice. As fans came out and questioned the legitimacy of the reporting of Norvell’s statement, Wilson’s Florida State teammates supported him on Twitter. After Wilson and his teammates threatened to boycott workouts, Norvell met with the team and then released a statement in which he admitted he wasn’t honest about his communication with players.
Norvell only wanted the public to see that he was taking the right action. Had Wilson not spoken out, we wouldn’t have thought twice about it. We would have assumed that Norvell said and did all the right things following the nationwide protests against racial injustice.
That couldn’t have happened at a place like Iowa up until this week. Previously, Ferentz banned players from tweeting. That policy finally changed Thursday, when Iowa players were initially allowed 1 pre-approved tweet. As of this past Sunday, they can tweet without restrictions.
Will that lead to more transparency within the program? Possibly. In a perfect world, we’ll see players speak out when there is wrongdoing going on within their programs. It could give us a clearer view of these teams and coaches. It doesn’t mean that we’ll know about every scandal or that we’ll always have the correct perspective.
But at least it’s better than knowing nothing.