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Univ. of Iowa Football Race Bias Suit Nears Settlement With Tax Money

By Eric Olson | March 7, 2023

A proposed settlement for more than $4 million has been reached in the lawsuit brought by former Iowa football players who alleged racial discrimination in coach Kirk Ferentz’s program.

The office of State Auditor Rob Sand disclosed the proposed settlement on Monday, and he was scheduled to speak at a news conference where he will announce his opposition to using taxpayer money to pay a portion of the settlement unless university athletic director Gary Barta is fired.

Sand’s spokeswoman, Sonya Heitshusen, said the three-member State Appeal Board will vote Monday afternoon on whether to approve the use of $2 million in state money for a settlement. Sand is a member of the board along with state treasurer Roby Smith and Department of Management director Kraig Paulsen.

A message was left for Tulsa-based attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of about a dozen Black former players in 2020.

In a response to a request for comment from Barta, the athletic department put out a statement attributed to him: ”The Athletic Department remains committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for every student-athlete and staff member involved in our program. The Hawkeyes over-arching goal to win every time we compete, graduate every student-athlete that comes to Iowa, and to do it right, remains our focus.”

In a statement to the appeal board, Sand noted three discrimination cases totaling nearly $7 million in damages under Barta’s watch. The largest of those 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 that settlement came from the athletic department, which does not rely on taxpayer funding.

“After the largest settlement, Barta asserted no wrong was done,” Sand said in his statement to the appeal board. “Now we have a new matter for $4 million more, and for the first time they want part paid from the taxpayers’ General Fund, even though they now collect tens of millions annually thru (sic) the Big Ten TV deal.

“Enough is enough. Clear personal accountability is necessary. I will not support taxpayers funding this settlement unless Gary Barta is no longer employed at the University and forfeits any severance or similar pay.”

Barta, Ferentz, his son and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and former strength coach Chris Doyle were dismissed from the lawsuit last week, which was considered a sign a proposed settlement was imminent.

Photo: FILE – Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, front right, stands for the national anthem before the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. Iowa hired Lorenda Holston as assistant athletic director for diversity, equity and inclusion and Anthony Embry for the newly created position of athletics academic and diversity coordinator, the university announced Friday, July 22, 2022. The announcement comes as the university and head football coach Kirk Ferentz and others face a lawsuit by former football players who allege they faced discrimination and harassment from coaches and staff because they are Black.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

Topics Lawsuits Iowa

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