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Former Iowa running back calls his time with Hawkeyes a ‘living nightmare’

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz and members of his staff are facing allegations of mistreatment and racial bias from multiple former players, most recently ex-running back Akrum Wadley. (Nati Harnik/AP)

Weeks of turmoil surrounding the Iowa football program continued Monday when former standout running back Akrum Wadley alleged racial bias and mistreatment that he said made his time in Iowa City a “living nightmare.”

“I wish I had never played for the Iowa Hawkeyes,” Wadley said in a statement. “I would not encourage any future athletes or parents to send your kids to go play for the Iowa Hawkeyes under that current coaching staff.”

Wadley’s comments are the latest allegations against Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff. Earlier this month, the program parted ways with longtime strength coach Chris Doyle after multiple former players alleged mistreatment and racism.

Wadley’s comments were released on the Facebook page of Robert T. Green, CEO of a sports advisory firm that is working with several former Iowa players speaking out against the program. Wadley played for the Hawkeyes from 2014 to 2017, finishing fifth in program history with 2,872 rushing yards and fourth with 28 rushing touchdowns.

In the statement, Wadley identifies Doyle, Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz by name. He writes that his experiences in college had driven him to use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“My hope is my story and those of my teammates save others from the experiences, truths and mistake of playing under and for a coaching staff at Iowa that did and said nothing to stop the bullying and racism from happening to us under Chris Doyle, Brian Ferentz and Kirk Ferentz,” he said in the statement. “What you see on TV isn’t what you get behind closed doors.”

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Wadley detailed several incidents. He alleged Brian Ferentz, Kirk’s son and a member of the coaching staff since 2012, asked him if he was planning to commit a robbery when he saw Wadley wearing a black Nike winter cap, and berated him for parking in the wrong spot.

Wadley also said the program’s strict weight program unfairly targeted black players and made him “very sick daily.” He added that Kirk Ferentz threatened to take away his meal card as part of that program.

“He did follow through on his threat,” Wadley said in the statement. “I went to use my meal card, and it was declined. I had to call my mother from New Jersey at 10 or 11 at night because I was hungry to order Domino’s Pizza for me. Or I would have to go to a fan’s house earlier at night to eat because there was no way I was going to be able to make it through the next day vomiting, being weak and be able to make it through school and practice.”

Wadley also alleged the program rarely let him speak his mind to the press or on social media, often giving him notecards filled with talking points and telling him to stick to the script. At one point Wadley asked the program to provide him with a therapist “because no one in the football program would help us or listen to what we had to say.” He said he met with a therapist once, told her about his issues with the team and that “she disappeared after that.”

“No one told me where she went and no one was put in place for her after that,” he said. “I didn’t want to ask too many questions because we would get punished for anything and everything but nothing that we even knew of.”

Wadley ended his statement by saying the events he described have had a lasting impact on him, but he hopes to turn a corner.

“My time at Iowa has done things to me that I am not going to discuss because knowing how these people treated me and other black athletes,” he said. “I am done giving them power over me.”

In a statement given to the Des Moines Register on Monday, the school said Ferentz, Iowa’s head coach since 1999, would not publicly comment on the matter “out of respect for the independent review process.” Earlier this month, Iowa hired the Husch Blackwell law firm to conduct a review of the program.

“Coach Ferentz has spent the past several weeks listening and talking with a number of current and former players, who shared their experiences and their desire to help shape the future of the Hawkeye football program,” the statement said. “Additionally, Coach Ferentz has been meeting with the newly formed advisory group and is formulating a plan to institute their recommendations.”

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