Growing Avalanche: How the suspension of Gary Dolphin adds to the mishaps of the Iowa athletic department

I sat in my room on Friday afternoon preparing myself for Iowa’s game against the Indiana Hoosiers. I check my Twitter timeline and notice there are some rumblings that the Iowa athletic department is preparing a press release for Friday afternoon. Nearly instantly after I saw it, the rumors begin flying and one thing was clear: Gary Dolphin is involved.

For those that are still unaware, longtime Iowa play-by-play man Gary Dolphin was suspended for the remainder of the Iowa basketball season following comments made during the post-game show about Maryland center Bruno Fernando following the Hawkeyes 66-65 loss to the Terrapins, likening the 6’10” center to “King Kong on the boards”.

It’s obvious to those knowledgeable about sports that Dolphin’s comments were nothing more than a big compliment as Fernando came up huge down the stretch with multiple second-chance rebounds and the eventual game-winning bucket. But to the untrained ear and brain, it can be construed as a racist comment, comparing a large, black student-athlete to a gorilla.

But let’s get one thing straight: Gary Dolphin is not a racist. I have been listening to him since I can remember watching Iowa football when I was 5 years old and have never heard him utter anything that could be construed as racist.

It’s tough for me to comment on this with an even keel for one major reason: Gary Dolphin is the reason why I do what I do, as a young play-by-play broadcaster. I think it’s a tragedy that a man, who has given his heart to the University of Iowa for nearly 25 years, is in turn, betrayed by the same institution in a situation that was reverse of Benedict Arnold betraying the United States.

Matthew Holst/Iowa City Press-Citizen
Gary Dolphin and Hayden Fry embrace prior to Iowa’s season-opener against UNI in 2009

But Dolphin’s suspension leads to a much bigger issue than the behavior of the longtime play-by-play man: The Iowa athletic department’s growing avalanche of PR missteps, and the heated criticism toward the man in charge of Iowa athletics, Gary Barta.

It is no secret that Barta is currently Public Enemy #1 among all Hawkeye fans who are in Gary Dolphin’s corner (There are a lot of them). Many are quick to point at other controversies that rose to the surface since Barta took over as athletics director in 2006, and it’s list that grows like a snowball eventually triggering an avalanche.

The Issues

Issue #1: Fall 2007, Iowa football players Cedric Everson and Abe Satterfield are charged with sexually assaulting a female-student athlete in a university’s dormitory. It is alleged by the victim’s mother that the athletic department worked to make sure police were not involved in the case.

Issue #2: Fall 2008, a member of the Iowa rowing team suffered a career-ending leg injury due to “excessive training regimen”. Two years later, she sued the university and was paid $300,000 as part of a settlement.

Issue #3: January 2011, 13 Iowa football players are hospitalized as apart of the infamous rhabdomyolysis case. Gary Barta, Kirk Ferentz and Chris Doyle were unavailable to the media at the time of the press conference.

Issue #4: Fall 2012, Peter Gray, an academic advisor for many student-athletes resigns due to “personal reasons”. Barta fails to disclose that Gray had allegedly made inappropriate comments to recruits and there families, groped or sexually assaulted students, had been seen with pornography on his computer and had traded nude photos for tickets to Iowa athletic events.

Issue #5: Summer 2014-Spring 2017, Barta announces in August 2014 that the university had fired women’s field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum for alleged mistreatment of players. Barta publicly stated that “other factors” played into Griesbaum’s removal, and that was construed as sexual orientation by Griesbaum and in turn sued. When her partner, UI athletic administrator Jane Meyer was removed from her position in the athletic department, she also sued.

After a month of litigation in April 2017, it is determined the University of Iowa owed Jane Meyer $1.43 million in damages. Following settlements, the university played Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum a grand total of $6.5 million in damages.

Jane Meyer, left, former senior associate athletic director at the University of Iowa, gets a hug from her partner Tracey Griesbaum, right, following a news conference in Des Moines, Iowa. The University of Iowa will pay $6.5 million to settle high-profile discrimination lawsuits filed by former athletic administrator Jane Meyer and her partner, former women’s field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, according to settlements released Friday, May 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Issue #6: November 28, 2018, Barta suspends Gary Dolphin for comments made by Dolphin regarding Iowa players during a break in action in a game between Iowa and Pittsburgh as Dolphin’s mic was accidentally left on. Barta further confuses fans and media citing “ongoing tensions” as a reason Dolphin was suspended.

Issue #7: February 22, 2019, Learfield Sports and the University of Iowa suspends Dolphin for the remainder of the basketball season due to his postgame comments about Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, referring to him as “King Kong on the boards”.

All of the issues listed don’t even include the behind-the-scenes contract extensions that Barta decides to announce months after they are completed, and have historically turned out poor for the respective athletic programs.

After suspending Gary Dolphin on Friday, it was announced that Barta would not talk with the media and address the situation at all, yet he still manages to attend the game that night against Indiana, much to the chagrin of the 15,000 Hawkeye fans in attendance.

Gary Barta may be in a position of great power as director of athletics at a Big Ten university. But, his public perception is declining greatly with each passing day, and if Gary Dolphin is in fact done covering Iowa athletics after these recent events, it could shake Barta’s castle all the way down to bedrock, and could spell the beginning of the end.

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