In a decision announced on Friday, Northwestern suspended head coach Pat Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay following an independent investigation into allegations of hazing within the Wildcats’ football program.
Northwestern University has suspended head football coach Pat Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay following an investigation into allegations of hazing within the Wildcats’ program https://t.co/HGolcB965B
— CNN (@CNN) July 8, 2023
The next day, more details of the allegations came out in a report by Northwestern’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern.
CW: This story contains mention of hazing, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.
BREAKING: A former Northwestern football player is alleging that some of the hazing conduct that took place on the team involved coerced sexual acts. 🧵https://t.co/idm3mRYMdV
— The Daily Northwestern (@thedailynu) July 8, 2023
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” the anonymous player said, “and it’s just absolutely egregious and vile and inhuman behavior.”
The article said that the player reported what he experienced to Northwestern last November and that a practice known as “running” was at the center of the hazing. “Running” was used to punish players for mistakes made either during a game or in practice, and freshmen, in particular, were targets.
According to the player, a person selected for “running” would have eight-to-ten upperclassmen restraining him while wearing “purge-like” masks.
After that, the players would start to “dry hump” the victim in a dark locker room.
The player who spoke with Northwestern’s student paper said that Fitzgerald would repeatedly “signal” when players made a mistake. This signal for running would consist of a players clapping their hands around the player who was to be targeted for “running.” The player said Northwestern’s team called this the “Shrek clap.”
The Daily reported that it had obtained a video of a player doing the “Shrek clap” during a game.
The article reported that the player feels some Northwestern players saw Fitzgerald’s signaling as encouragement for the hazing.
”Everyone would just be looking at each other and be like ‘bro, Fitz knows about this’, because you wouldn’t take that action otherwise,” he said. “Everyone joins in because he’s the head coach.”
The Daily spoke with a second player, who also requested to remain anonymous. This player also said he witnessed the acts of hazing take place.
The first player who told The Daily of these acts said it was a “shocking experience as a freshman to see your fellow freshmen teammates get ran.”
”But then you see everybody by-standing in the locker room,” he said. “It’s just a really abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout that program for years on end now.”
The Daily acquired pictures of white boards. These white boards were labeled “Runsgiving” and “Shrek’s List,” containing a list with names of players who needed to be “ran,” according to anonymous player.
The announcement of Fitzgerald’s suspension came after Northwestern concluded an outside investigation after receiving a complaint in November that alleged instances of hazing occurring inside the Wildcats’ locker room and at “Camp Kenosha” in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the team holds its preseason camp.
“I was very disappointed when I heard about the allegations of hazing on our football team,” Fitzgerald said. “Although I was not aware of the alleged incidents, I have spoken to University officials, and they informed me of a two-week suspension, effective immediately.
“Northwestern football prides itself on producing not just athletes, but fine young men with character befitting the program and our University. We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward.”
According to the complaint, football players would pressure teammates into participating in hazing activities. The university said the details of the investigation will remain confidential.
“Hazing in any form is unacceptable and goes against our core values at Northwestern, where we strive to make the University a safe and welcoming environment for all of our students,” Northwestern president Michael Schill said in a statement. “Our athletics programs are held to the highest standards, and in this case, we failed to meet them. I expect that today’s actions will prevent this from ever happening again.”
While the investigation found that student-athletes had different inputs concerning the hazing, the “investigation team determined that the complainant’s claims were largely supported by the evidence gathered during the investigation, including separate and consistent first-person accounts from current and former players,” according to the investigation’s executive summary.
The investigation also “did not uncover evidence pointing to specific misconduct by any individual football player or coach” but found that “participation in or knowledge of the hazing activities was widespread across football players.”
While the investigation did not find sufficient evidence suggesting the coaching staff was aware of any hazing, “there had been significant opportunities to discover and report the hazing conduct,” according to the summary.
Investigators spoke with more than 50 people currently or formerly associated with the football program and reviewed emails and survey data dating to 2014.
University representatives said they will adopt a series of changes suggested by the investigation, including the permanent discontinuation of practices and events at Camp Kenosha. The school will also add an independent monitor to the locker room who does not report to the football staff and create an online reporting tool for student-athletes to report allegations of hazing or misconduct.
“Northwestern Athletics prides itself on providing a world-class student-athlete experience, which includes a safe and respectful environment for all of our students, coaches and staff,” athletics director Derrick Gragg said in a statement. “We respect the courage of the individuals who came forward to make us aware of the issue, and we vow to do our part to create a more positive environment moving forward.”