On Friday, Northwestern University announced that head football coach Pat Fitzgerald would be suspended for two weeks without pay following an investigation into allegations of hazing on the football team. The school’s executive summary of the investigation’s findings stated that the allegations, which were first brought to Northwestern’s attention by an anonymous tip from a player in December 2022, were “largely supported by evidence gathered during the investigation.” investigation”. The summary went on to say, however, that “the investigative team did not discover sufficient evidence to believe that the coaching staff knew about the ongoing hazing conduct,” which went some way to explaining why Fitzgerald only received a two-week suspension. . But on Saturday night, University President Michael Schill was already reconsidering letting Fitzgerald go so lightly.
Schill’s change of heart was prompted by an interview the anonymous whistleblower gave to The Daily Northwest, the details of which were published on Saturday. The player provided the newspaper with detailed descriptions of the hazing and indicated that Fitzgerald might have known what was going on. According to the player, a common hazing ritual was known as a “run”, which involved a younger player being held down and hunchbacked by a group of upperclassmen. The player told him The Daily Northwest that players would identify their teammates as “running” targets by clapping overhead around that player, and that Fitzgerald himself would make the same clapping signal during practices when freshmen made a mistake. Of the paper:
The player believes some players interpreted Fitzgerald’s making these signals as knowingly “encouraging” the hazing to continue.
“Everyone would look at each other and say ‘bro, Fitz knows about this,’ because otherwise you wouldn’t take that action,” the player said. “Everyone comes together, because he’s the head coach.”
After his suspension was announced, Fitzgerald said in a statement that he was “unaware of the alleged incidents.”
After the publication of the diary story, Schill sent a letter to Northwestern students and alumni writing that he “may have been wrong in weighing the appropriate sanction” when he made the decision to suspend Fitzgerald for two weeks. “In determining an appropriate sanction 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,” Schill wrote.
The same player who spoke with The Daily Northwest he also spoke to ESPN and told them that he had spoken to Schill in person on Sunday morning. From ESPN:
“He was extremely receptive throughout the conversation,” the former player said of Schill. “He said he has meetings later today with I think the board and they’re going to review this issue and see what would be the best course of action to root out this behavior.”
Schill has said he will now meet with the school’s board of trustees to determine a new sanction for Fitzgerald. The 48-year-old has been the Wildcats’ head coach since 2006 and has a 110-101 career record. He led the team to a 3-9 record in 2021 and a 1-11 record in 2022.
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