Former Northwestern Wildcats football player accuses Coach Pat Fitzgerald of knowing about and failing to intervene in hazing incidents. The player spoke to the university president about the issue. Fitzgerald was suspended for two weeks while the university investigated the allegations. The player claims the hazing involved sexual abuse and assault. Current players deny the allegations and express support for Fitzgerald. The university conducted a six-month investigation but found insufficient evidence of staff knowledge. Measures are being implemented to address hazing, including monitoring the locker room and creating a reporting tool.
Fox News: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald ‘absolutely knew’ about hazing within football program, former player says
Ryan Gaydos; July 10, 2023
Northwestern Wildcats football coach Pat Fitzgerald “absolutely knew” about the hazing that was going on in the program, a former player said Sunday as specific details of the alleged incidents surfaced earlier in the week.
The former Wildcats player told ESPN he spoke to university president Michael Schill about the hazing he said he witnessed while he was in the program. Fitzgerald has been the head coach at Northwestern since 2006 and led them to three 10-win seasons over the course of his tenure. He was suspended for two weeks as the university gathered more information about the allegations.
“Fitz absolutely knew about hazing in this program,” the former player told ESPN. “Fitz absolutely failed by not intervening. Fitz knew and he should have made it stop, and if he truly did not know, he should not be the head coach. Either way, he should not be the head coach, because he is not monitoring and protecting the safety and well-being of student-athletes.”
The former player told the outlet that Schill was “extremely receptive” to his story and offered resources to help with the trauma from the experiences.
A current player on the Wildcats team told ESPN that the former player’s objective was to take down Fitzgerald and get him removed from the program. The current player added that “the truth is none of that stuff happened in our locker room.”
The former player added that he wanted to get Fitzgerald “out of the program” but his objective was greater than that.
“I want to shed light on this heinous, illegal behavior. I wanted illegal behavior out of the program. This is an absolutely barbaric and egregious culture that ultimately lies on the shoulders of the head coach,” the former player said, adding that the older players had a group called the “Shrek gang” and a younger player would be restrained in a dark room and would be forced in “sexualized behavior.”
“They have been held down against their will by numerous upperclassmen with masks on and have been violently dry-humped in a dark room,” the former player said. “This is Title IX stuff, this is sexual abuse and sexual assault. I don’t know why the university isn’t making the details public.”
The former player also spoke of “Shrek’s List” in which players were given certain trials to go through, including “naked slingshot” and “naked bear crawls.” The current player rebutted and said he never heard of “Shrek’s List.”
Both players spoke anonymously to ESPN.
On Saturday night, Northwestern football players released a joint statement pushing back on claims that surfaced earlier in the week and expressed support for Fitzgerald.
“Northwestern Football players DO NOT tolerate hazing,” the letter read. “We want to reiterate that as representatives of the Northwestern Football program, we do not tolerate hazing in any form. Hazing goes against our values of respect, integrity, and personal growth. We are committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes the well-being and development of every individual on our team.
“It is disheartening to see that the allegations brought forth against our team have been exaggerated and twisted into lies. 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 letter added that Northwestern conducted an “independent third-party” investigation into the matter that took “a rigorous six months” to complete. The investigation included interviews with current and former players as well as coaching staff.
Northwestern said Friday that after a six-month investigation, led by attorney Maggie Hickey of law firm ArentFox Schiff, did not find “sufficient” evidence that the coaching staff knew about ongoing hazing – though there were “significant opportunities” to find out about it.
On Saturday, The Daily Northwestern published a story detailing allegations from a former player who described specific instances of hazing and sexual abuse. The report also suggested that Fitzgerald “may have known that hazing took place.”
Schill wrote an open letter to the university community and acknowledged focusing “too much on what the report concluded (Fitzgerald) didn’t know and not enough on what he should have known.” He said he planned on speaking with university leadership, the board of trustees and leaders of the faculty senate to determine the next steps.
“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,” Schill wrote.
“He failed to uphold that commitment and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a sanction.”
The school first learned of the hazing allegations in late 2022 and the former player who brought up the complaint spoke to investigators earlier this year as part of probe launched by the school. The report concluded the claims could be “largely supported by the evidence” but couldn’t determine whether the coaching staff knew of the instances.
Fitzgerald was suspended for two weeks and preseason camps in Wisconsin would be discontinued. Additionally, the locker room would be monitored by an official outside the purview of the coaching staff and the school would create a tool for anonymously reporting hazing. Coaches, staff and athletes would also be required to take anti-hazing training and the school would form a group to report on policy, culture, training and enforcement.
Fox News’ Scott Thompson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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