As I so often do when the world seems to unravel, I think of songs that may help me respond to what the heck is going on. And with the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests calling for justice and reform, the song that sticks most in my head these days is Townes Van Zandt’s “Tower Song.” Written in the early 70s, the chorus of the song seems to be speaking to today’s unrest, “You built your tower strong and tall, can’t you see it’s got to fall someday.”
Whether it’s musicians or athletes, one doesn’t have to look too hard on social media for people calling for change when it comes to racism and police brutality in our country. And for every post or tweet from a musician or athlete supporting those causes, a response can be found that says, “Don’t get involved in this. I like you, but just shut up and play.”
We put great stock in the ability of our athletes and musicians. We buy their albums and wear their jerseys. But sometimes when they speak the truth, often one we don’t want to hear, it cuts a little closer than some people like.
Former Iowa Hawkeye football players spoke last week about negative experiences they had while at Iowa working with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. All the players alleging negative treatment from Doyle were black.
Doyle has denied any accusations of racist treatment of players. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the allegations against Doyle caught him off guard. That’s easy to believe. I think it caught most Hawkeye fans off guard.
Ferentz also said if his players decided to protest by taking a knee during the National Anthem at games next fall, he wants the team to be unified and do it as a team or find another means of peaceful protest.
The tower that is Iowa football began teetering on its base when fans took to Twitter denouncing the idea of Iowa players taking a knee during the anthem. Shut up and play became a common theme.
Last week, a football player at the University of Iowa, Kaevon Merriweather, tweeted that if fans of the team don’t support the team’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem, “don’t support us during the football season.” Later in his tweet, Merriweather said, “I would rather play in front of 1,000 fans who care about us as people outside of football and what we are standing for, than 70,000 fans who only care about us when we are in uniform and on the field entertaining them.”
So with Merriweather’s words, the gauntlet has been thrown down. If you are going to support the team, support the fight for equality.
I hope Iowa football can figure this out. I do. If the team takes a knee this fall, it won’t turn me off. I won’t see it as disrespecting the flag or the country. For those who do, that’s their right of course.
Iowa football is reevaluating how it treats players of color partly because a black man died in police custody as the world watched from cell phone videos. And if only 1,000 people show up at Hawkeye games because players choose to protest racial injustice by taking a knee, count me among those in attendance. Their fight is our fight. Or at least it should be. Go Hawks.