Black former University of Iowa football players seek $20M in racial discrimination claim

The University of Iowa has rejected a request from several of its Black former football players demanding $20 million in damages over the racial discrimination they faced while playing for the Hawkeyes.

In a letter dated Oct. 5, civil rights attorney Demario Solomon-Simmons — who is representing the players — wrote the university saying that during their college football career the eight players “were subjected to intentional race discrimination by coaching staff and administration.”

“Through the Program’s pervasive harassment, bullying, policies causing disparate impact, and race-based threats and retaliation, our clients were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to pursue a high-quality education while competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics,” Solomon-Simmons continued.

Specifically, the letter was addressed to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, assistant coach Brian Ferentz and athletic director Gary Berta, calling for all three to be fired.

In addition to the firings and the multimillion-dollar payout, the letter had other demands, including compulsory anti-racist training for all athletics staff, the creation of a permanent Black male senior administrator position in the department and tuition waivers for all Black players who didn’t graduate under Kirk Ferentz’s 22-year tenure as head coach.  

The letter also stated that if the university failed to agree to the terms listed by Monday, Oct. 19, then a lawsuit against the coaches and the university would “promptly” be filed.

On Sunday, Carroll Reasoner — the university’s general counsel — replied, “We respectfully decline your monetary and personnel demands,” noting that the university and team had already “publicly addressed some of the concerns.”

Widespread allegations of racial discrimination and mistreatment at the university surfaced in June when 60 former players publicly shared their experiences. This led to Iowa firing its longtime strength and conditioning coach Chris Boyle and having law firm Husch Blackwell conduct an independent review of the football program.

The review, released at the end of July, stated that the program’s structure “perpetuated racial or cultural biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity,” but that “immediate and positive changes” had been implemented since the review started.

The potentially looming lawsuit comes as the Hawkeyes are set to start their coronavirus-shortened season at Purdue on Saturday.

Ferentz briefly addressed the letter Sunday night.

“I am disappointed to receive this type of demand letter. Due to the threat of litigation, I am not able to address the specific comments made by our former players,” Ferentz said, per the Des Moines Register. “As you may know, this past summer we made adjustments to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all of our student-athletes. These changes include both policies and rules, as well as an expanded leadership council of current players and a new advisory committee comprised of former players.”

The existence of Solomon-Simmons’s letter was first reported by the Register. 

Solomon-Simmons’s office told The Hill that he’s expected to formally respond to Iowa’s rejection of his sometime Monday afternoon.

The university’s general counsel’s office didn’t immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.