Bullying behind closed doors


Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Could the next Richie Incognito-type bully be playing for the Iowa football team right now?


Would we ever know?

Not unless they said something.

Is that a problem?

It’s a BIG problem.

Fast forward to the Miami Dolphins, where Incognito was recently suspended for harassing and bullying teammate Jonathan Martin. It was Martin who blew the whistle on Incognito, his teammates, coaches and organization. It wasn’t an assistant coach with a conscience, a team administrator or a media relations staffer who came forward. Nor was it one of the many beat reporters who cover the team because most likely they weren’t aware of it. It was Martin himself who finally decided enough was enough and released to the media an epithet-filled text that he received from Incognito.

Raise your hand if you think this could only happen in Miami.

It’s possible that this type of behavior exists within the walls of nearly every major pro and college football team, including Iowa’s. But if it does, it won’t be released by the team. It won’t admitted by a coach at a press conference. And it won’t be witnessed in the locker room by anyone outside the program. But the circumstantial evidence that it could exist is there if you know what to look for.

Firstly, no formal system at Iowa currently exists to prevent bullying, harassment or physical violence from happening at Iowa, according to players. If no one is telling players to stop, why would they? And forget about players or coaches policing themselves. Every person who is privy to what goes on at practice, in the locker room, in meetings or in workouts probably works for the university. And those who are privy aren’t likely to be talking. Reporters aren’t allowed near the players except for a brief period of time in a controlled environment each week. Reporters can’t talk to coaches or players off camera to get a sense of what’s really going on. No one outside the program has virtually any idea what could be happening on the inside. And the players who might otherwise speak up have virtually no recourse but to either shut up or go home.

And that’s another big problem.

Secondly, almost to a man, Iowa coaches and players talk about how the program is known for its “toughness.” The Hawkeyes play a “physical” brand of football. Current players have said that is one reason they came to Iowa. They know they are expected to play tough, hard-nosed football. But most 18-year-olds don’t come to Iowa as the toughest kids on the block. They are made here. Each player is given a training schedule and goals to beef up their bodies and get ready to play tough Big 10 football. So exactly how do you turn a raw, teen-aged kid into big, strong hitting machine who is willing to sacrifice his body and endure pain without even getting paid?

Ask Jonathan Martin.

Martin was targeted as a victim because Incognito and perhaps others players and coaches thought he soft and wasn’t “tough” enough. He was hazed, abused and pressured into doing things he wasn’t comfortable doing or hearing. Martin felt his own rights and welfare were more important the team’s. In the end, he decided his only course of action was to leave the team and tell his story.

Martin did the right thing, but players at Iowa don’t have that option.

Some have suggested that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin or other coaches either ordered the bullying, condoned it or both But at a recent press conference, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz vouched for Philbin, who was an assistant at Iowa in 1999-2002. Ferentz said Philbin is a man of character. But when it comes to the subject of bullying and Iowa football, what Ferentz doesn’t say is infinitely more telling than what he does.

More than one Iowa player has been known to transfer, quit the team or lose his scholarship over “philosophical differences” with coaches and other players. Maybe they were bullied, harassed or hazed. Maybe they spoke up about things they weren’t supposed to. Maybe not. But if you ask Ferentz about any past players who have been disciplined or left the program, all he will say is that they come from a great family and he wishes them all the best. He doesn’t go into any details about possible problems, solutions or even really acknowledge anything existed. Most everything about the Iowa program is kept in the dark, just like public was about Martin and the Dolphins.

And that is an even bigger problem.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – It took 10 games into the season, but Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz finally let the kids out.

Sophomore Jordan Canzeri rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown, and the Hawkeyes got major contributions for several more underclassmen in a 38-14 blowout victory over Purdue on Saturday.

Iowa (6-4, 3-3) also got a pair of touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock. One of those was to sophomore tight end Jake Duzey. Even redshirt freshman quarterback C.J. Beathard got into the act, scrambling 5 yards for a touchdown late in the game to cap the scoring for Iowa.

Ferentz and Iowa have come under criticism lately for failing to hold leads in the second half. A lot of that was attributed to a winded defense because of a lack of depth behind the upper class starters. Ferentz has made it clear he places a premium on junior and senior leadership. But he may be changing his mind soon if Canzeri and his younger teammates continue to make plays and help win games.

Canzeri, who came in with just 173 yards on the season, nearly doubled that in one game. He continually gashed the Boliermakers for big gains, averaging 8.3 yards a carry. Mostly behind left tackle Brandon Sherff, the Hawkeyes rushed for 318 yards and had 509 yards of total offense, both season highs. Damon Bullock ran well too, gaining 85 yards on 10 carries.

But it was Canzeri who supplied the spark and helped make the Hawkeyes bowl-eligible. After a 88-yard drive put the ball on the 2, Canzeri scored the game’s first touchdown. Canzeri finished the half with 75 yards on 10 carries.

Rudock, in his first season as a starter, took it from there. Purdue tied it at 7, but Rudock ended the first-half scoring with a perfect strike to Kevonte Martin-Manley from 22 yards out. Rudock played well and made some key throws. He finished with 191 yards passing and two touchdowns.

Canzeri couldn’t be stopped in the second half as well. He rushed for 90 yards in the half and was instrumental in moving the Hawkeyes into scoring position time and again. Mark Weisman’s 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave Iowa a commanding 24-7 lead. From there, Duzey and Beathard finished it off with touchdowns for the Hawkeyes.

Danny Etling was 15 of 28 passes for 145 yards for Purdue (1-8, 0-5). The Boilermakers have scored 31 points in five Big Ten games. Austin Appleby and Kurt Freytag each had touchdown receptions for Purdue.