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College Football

Northwestern To Reconsider Pat Fitzgerald’s Suspension After Hazing Details Emerge

2:35 PM EDT on July 9, 2023

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats runs off the field after losing to the Wisconsin Badgers at Ryan Field on October 08, 2022 in Evanston, Illinois.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

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 the evidence gathered during the investigation." The summary went on to say, however, that "the investigation team did not discover sufficient evidence to believe that coaching staff knew about the ongoing hazing conduct," which went some way towards explaining why Fitzgerald only received a two-week suspension. But by Saturday evening, university president Michael Schill was already reconsidering letting Fitzgerald off so light.

Schill's change of heart was spurred by an interview that the anonymous whistleblower gave to The Daily Northwestern, the details of which were published on Saturday. The player provided the paper with detailed descriptions of the hazing, and indicated that Fitzgerald may have known what was going on. According to the player, one common hazing ritual was known as "running," which involved a younger player being held down and dry-humped by a group of upperclassmen. The player told The Daily Northwestern that players would identify teammates as targets for "running" by clapping their hands above their heads around that player, and that Fitzgerald himself would do the same clapping signal during practices when underclassmen would make a mistake. From the paper:

The player believes some players interpreted Fitzgerald making these signals as knowingly “encouraging” the hazing to continue.

“Everyone would just be looking at each other and be like ‘bro, Fitz knows about this,’ because you wouldn’t take that action otherwise,” the player said. “Everyone joins in, because he’s the head coach.” 

Daily Northwestern

After his suspension was announced, Fitzgerald said in a statement that he was "not aware of the alleged incidents."

Following the publication of the Daily's story, Schill sent a letter to Northwestern students and alumni in which he wrote that he "may have erred in weighing the appropriate sanction" when he made the decision to suspend Fitzgerald for two weeks. "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," Schill wrote.

The same player who spoke to The Daily Northwestern also spoke to ESPN, telling them that he had personally spoken to Schill on Sunday morning. From ESPN:

"He was extremely receptive throughout the conversation," the former player said of Schill. "He stated that he has meetings later today with I believe the board and they're going to revisit this topic and see what the best course of action would be to eradicate this behavior."

ESPN

Schill has said that he will now meet with the school's board of trustees in order to determine a new penalty for Fitzgerald. The 48-year-old has been the Wildcats' head coach since 2006 and has a career record of 110-101. He led the team to a 3-9 record in 2021 and a 1-11 record in 2022.

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