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Northwestern President Re-Assessing Suspension of HC Pat Fitzgerald

On Friday, Northwestern suspended its longtime football coach, Pat Fitzgerald, for two weeks without pay amid alleged hazing within the program.

The next day, an anonymous former Northwestern player went into detail about the allegations with the school’s student newspaper, the Daily Northwestern.

Following that report, University President Michael Schill wrote that he’s spoken with the family of the player who spoke with the student newspaper, and is reassessing Fitzgerald’s current punishment.

In his statement, Schill wrote that he believes he “may have erred in weighing the appropriate sanction for Coach Fitzgerald.”

“The confidential report concluded that while there was corroborating evidence that hazing has occurred, there was no direct evidence that Coach Fitzgerald was aware of the hazing,” the statement reads. “In determining an appropriate penalty for the head coach, I focused too much on what the report concluded he didn’t know and not enough on what he should have known.”

“As the head coach of one of our athletics programs, Coach Fitzgerald is not only responsible for what happens within the program but also must take great care to uphold our institutional commitment to the student experience and our priority to ensure all students— undergraduate and graduate— can thrive during their time at Northwestern. Clearly, he failed to uphold their commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure and levying a sanction.”

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,” Pat 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.”

The Daily Northwestern 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.”

In his statement, Schill wrote that “due to the confidential nature of the investigation, I just learned the name of the young man who first reported the allegations.”

“I spoke with his family and offered my sincere apologizes for what their son had to endure, and I also attempted to reach out to the young man himself to offer my apologizes. I was moved by what I heard from his family and by the impact the hazing had on their son.”

”In the days ahead, I will engage with University leadership, including the Board of Trustees as well as the leadership of the Faculty Senate and will keep you abreast of any developments as I assess further steps.”

Schill ended his statement by writing that “Northwestern University is an extraordinary University with an exceptional athletics program.”

”I am committed to ensuring that the misconduct that occurred in our football program never happens again anywhere in our University community.”

Pat Fitzgerald has some support, including from a letter signed by “The ENTIRE Northwestern Football Team.

This letter called the allegations “exaggerated and twisted.”

“It is disheartening to see that the allegations brought forth against our team have been exaggerated and twisted into lies,” the statement read. “These fabrications have been made with the intention of harming our program and tarnish the reputation of our dedicated players and coaching staff. We firmly deny the validity of these accusations and stand united in our assertion that they do not reflect the true character of our team.”

The statement went on to read that Fitzgerald “was not involved in any of the alleged incidents in any way, shape or form.”

“Coach Fitzgerald had no knowledge of these allegations until they were brought to his attention during the investigation. Throughout his tenure, Coach Fitzgerald has consistently prioritized the well-being and development of his players, and we stand behind him in his unwavering commitment to our team.”

Despite having some support, there are many calling for Fitzgerald’s removal.

Fitzgerald has been Northwestern’s head coach since 2006, and before that, had arguably the greatest playing career in school history, becoming a two-time All-American at linebacker and winning multiple Big Ten and national awards. In his time as head coach, Pat Fitzgerald has a winning 110-101 overall record— which is an accomplishment at Northwestern—  and has gotten the school to two Big Ten championship games, winning the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award in 2018.

But his future at the university, and in college coaching period, appears to be in jeopardy.

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