Last week, in the aftermath of the Iowa State win, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta issued one of his signature cryptic statements of foreboding and dread. This one was regarding the Hawkeye Marching Band, which had been in Ames Saturday for the game:
Barta didn't really say what had happened. Barta also misspelled the name of Henry B. Tippie, the guy who endows his position, so this was great work all around.
That statement sat out there for days, as Iowa failed to elaborate on what Barta meant by "inappropriate actions made toward" the Band. Rumors swirled of a fight between band members and angry Iowa State fans, of beer-throwing and name-calling. Iowa State's athletic director acted as if he had no idea what Barta was talking about while still getting a plug in for Iowa Corn:
“Here’s what I do know happened last week: This state had a national audience with (ESPN's 'College) GameDay.' It was an awesome, celebratory day for both Iowa and Iowa State. It brought great exposure to the Cy-Hawk series and Iowa corn and everything great about this state," Pollard said. "It pains me to think that a pretty vague release has kind of damaged that, nationally."
On Wednesday, Barta and Pollard went with full-on Bothsidesism in a statement about how all the marching bands had been subject to bad behavior on the road. There were no further details on what Barta was talking about in his Monday statement, however. By Thursday, Barta was telling the press that the investigation -- or whatever it was that Iowa and Iowa State did following the Monday statement -- was complete, even though he admitted a band member needed medical attention as a result of whatever happened:
“Jamie Pollard and I had a telephone conversation mid-afternoon Monday in which we discussed general scope of the incident," Barta said. "We agreed together to gather facts. After collecting information Monday and Tuesday, we realized it would be difficult to verify details and elected to focus on moving forward on future events.”
And then the inevitable happened: The marching band, which had been largely silent following Monday's cryptic press release, turned on their phones and found their social media apps:
"I have been trying to stay quiet on this issue and let the University handle things," Jack Buchanan, a band member, posted on Facebook. "Now unfortunately, it seems like they have abandoned us too. Let me be clear. THERE WAS PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL ASSAULT AT THE IOWA STATE GAME AGAINST THE BAND."
The violence, he and other students said, unfolded as band members made their way back to the bus and were confronted. What started as verbal assaults and racial slurs turned violent: One student was forcefully groped while another suffered broken ribs, according to several accounts.
"Put yourself in our shoes," Knopp said in his post. "Kids. Marching in formation back to our buses after a long day. Getting shoved and having beer cans shaken and sprayed at our feet. Getting slapped because of the words on our uniform (IOWA). Getting pushed so hard that someone’s (not going to name this person) ribs are broken. That is completely unacceptable."
Knopp wasn't the only one to make a statement:
UI band member Paige Pearson reached out to me & echoed what bandmate Corey Knopp wrote on Facebook. They both told me specifics on what happened in Ames needed to come director Eric Bush, who has not responded to my message. Here's a statement from Pearson. pic.twitter.com/nAGLNwqEKT— Rob Howe (@RobHoweHN) September 20, 2019
“A fan shoved me out of his way as we were marching in formation back to the buses,” Knopp told The Gazette in an interview. “He decided to cut through the band and shoved me out of his way. I yelled, ‘Do not put your hands on me sir,’ and he yelled back, ‘(expletive) you.’”
It was unlike fan abuse he’d experienced before. “No fan has ever touched me, let alone pushed me,” he said. “I was shocked he actually felt the need to do so.”
Although he didn’t suffer lasting injuries, Knopp said some of his peers did.
“A girl’s ribs are broken because of fan interaction,” he said. “A member of the band was cornered by a number of males and was assaulted.”
Fans pulled at the drum line and attacked members, Knopp said. They threw beer cans and shook and sprayed them at the members’ feet as they marched.
“We expect to be booed and the usual rivalry game antics,” he said. “But never physically and sexually assaulted.”
By the end of the day Friday, Iowa had reopened its "investigation" of the incident, with Barta completely out of the picture.
“The communication on social media made it clear we had not shared enough information with our students about the steps the university has taken to address the concerns raised by members of our marching band,” UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck told The Gazette in an email Friday.
“Student safety is our number one priority and we are committed to ensuring a safe experience on game day for our students,” she said. “Additionally we are continuing our investigation to ensure all of our students have the ability to share their experiences with the appropriate authorities.”
There is certainly room for a conversation about why we're sending a marching band to sit near, and perform for, 45,000 mostly-drunk people who hate their guts just for the colors of their uniforms (and vice versa for Iowa State's trips to Kinnick). If this is going to be a discussion of student safety, that's a basic point to be considered. The idea that this is some sort of friendly rivalry that is "good for the state" and "brings out the best of Iowa" is the incoherent rambling of people who haven't been to a game in Ames wearing black and gold. These two fan bases hate each other with the fury of a thousand supernovas, and injecting a loud blast of pro-Iowa school spirit into Jack Trice is simply begging for something like this to happen.
But Pearson said she'd like to focus on the response from Iowa, so let's oblige, because this is a paint-by-numbers Gary Barta Scandal:
- Issue a mysterious, incomprehensible statement hinting at wrongdoing but not actually saying what is at issue, as he did in both Gary Dolphin suspensions last basketball season.
- Refuse to follow up on what he meant by the statement when public outcry demanded explanation, again last seen with the Dolphin issue.
- Promise his internal constituency one thing, then go outside and throw them under the bus by doing the complete opposite, as he did by telling former Iowa field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum he planned to retain her just days before firing her.
- Getting undone on a student-safety issue when the students put in danger by his department's actions went to Facebook, as happened during the rhabdomyolysis scandal when defensive lineman Jim Poggi broke the news that players were hospitalized.
- Being nowhere near the press when the you-know-what hit the fan, as is the case in literally every Gary Barta scandal.
We are almost nine years removed from the rhabdo issue, an event so thoroughly bungled by Barta's office that he turned a player health scare into an honest-to-God scandal. Since that time, Barta's been sued by two former employees for discrimination and mishandled that situation so badly that a jury found that he had, in fact, discriminated against at least one of them. He tried to sweep another player safety issue under the rug and got caught. He signed a basketball coach to a multi-million dollar extension in secret. He got into two public altercations with his play-by-play announcer, both of which were somehow turned into a referendum on Barta rather than the announcer.
And now there's this, a band member -- not a player in a game, as if that would matter when it comes to the safety of students, but still -- allegedly has her ribs broken by an opposing fan after a game. Another is groped by those fans. Racial slurs. Thrown beer cans. Any athletic director with his priorities in the proper place would call the viability of this entire series into question, a series that now has student casualties. After all, as his spokeswoman said Friday, student safety is their number one priority.
Except that student safety is not the number one priority, as belied by Barta's statement on Thursday. "[W]e realized it would be difficult to verify details and elected to focus on moving forward on future events” is the giveaway. Barta admitted he knew of one student who needed medical treatment after the game. His examination of the issues giving rise to a student needing medical treatment because she played in the Iowa band apparently amounted to a phone call with his counterpart where they agreed that nothing more should be done. A student needing medical treatment because she played in the Iowa band wasn't enough to keep Pollard from dropping Iowa Corn into a statement or Barta to even consider stopping "future events" for more than two days. A student needing medical treatment because she played in the Iowa band was why the next talking point, within hours of Barta's original statement, was on the price tag for canceling the series and not how it occured that a student needed medical treatment because she played in the Iowa band.
Student safety isn't the number one priority of Iowa Athletics, any more than it was in those days of January 2011. The gravy train is the number one priority, the gravy train that keeps Gary Barta gainfully, and inexplicably, employed. That gravy train would come to a halt if Iowa canceled the series, even for a year. Losing corn money and a low-expense road game, and the potential political fallout from it, is the true number one priority of Iowa Athletics in the last fourteen years. The price of preventing an apparent assault against Iowa's band members is simply too great for Iowa Athletics to care.
UPDATE: There may be an adult in the room, after all.
University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld said he isnt convinced at all that Iowa should continue the CyHawk game with Iowa State game until they can assure something like the band incident doesnt happen again.— Lucy Rohden (@lucyrohdenTV) September 23, 2019
This is a positive development. We'll see just how positive it is in the coming days and weeks.