The University of Iowa athletics department recently agreed to repay the state $2 million to cover the costs of a legal settlement related to racial discrimination within the university’s football program. The settlement, which totaled $4.2 million, was announced on Monday and involved 12 Black former football players and the university. Under the terms of the agreement, the athletics department would pay $2.175 million of the settlement, while the state would pay the remaining $2 million.
Although the settlement drew immediate criticism, there was no admission of wrongdoing by university officials. Despite this, Damario Solomon-Simmons, a civil rights attorney representing the 12 Black ex-players, stated that his clients have been “vindicated” by the settlement. Additionally, State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, expressed his opposition to the use of taxpayer funds for the settlement unless Iowa athletics director Gary Barta was ousted.
In response to the settlement, Republican state Senator Annette Sweeney called for the Board of Regents budget to be held up until Barta is removed from his position. Furthermore, State Treasurer Roby Smith suggested that the university should re-examine its relationship with Barta, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, and other individuals named in the lawsuit.
As a result of the settlement, Iowa lawmakers introduced House Study Bill 229 on Wednesday, which requires athletics departments at the state’s regents universities to repay the state for any settlement costs that were not budgeted for by lawmakers. The bill would be retroactive and would cover this week’s settlement.
On Thursday morning, a lobbyist for the Board of Regents read a statement from University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson stating that the athletics department would cover the cost of the settlement. In her statement, Wilson acknowledged the concerns of Iowans and her commitment to the success and well-being of students both on and off the field of play.
While Republican lawmakers expressed appreciation for Wilson’s recognition that state taxpayers should not be responsible for the settlement’s costs, they also stated that they would continue to move forward with the bill to discuss future settlements or lawsuits. Representative Carter Nordman, R-Panora, remarked that the bill would continue the conversation around taxpayer responsibility for these types of settlements.
In conclusion, the settlement between the University of Iowa athletics department and the 12 Black former football players has sparked debate and calls for action from lawmakers. While the athletics department has agreed to repay the state $2 million, questions around accountability and taxpayer responsibility remain. The introduction of House Study Bill 229 and the ongoing discussions around the settlement’s implications suggest that this issue is far from resolved.