Ex-Northwestern player details 'vile and inhumane' hazing allegations within program

Northwestern said Friday that coach Pat Fitzgerald had been suspended for two weeks without pay after an investigation

A former Northwestern player said the alleged hazing acts that took place within the football program were “egregious and vile and inhumane behavior.”

Northwestern announced Friday that it had suspended coach Pat Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay following an investigation into allegations of hazing. Northwestern said that it didn’t find “sufficient evidence” that Fitzgerald or the coaching staff was aware of the hazing.

The school said it had received a report of hazing allegations in November. The former player who reported the allegations spoke to the Daily Northwestern in an article published Saturday and detailed what he said were widespread hazing rituals within the program.

The player was not identified in the story as he asked to remain anonymous. From the Daily Northwestern:

If a player was selected for “running,” the player who spoke to The Daily said, they would be restrained by a group of 8-10 upperclassmen dressed in various “Purge-like” masks, who would then begin “dry-humping” the victim in a dark locker room.

“It’s a shocking experience as a freshman to see your fellow freshman teammates get ran, but then you see everybody bystanding in the locker room,” the player said. “It’s just a really abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout that program for years on end now.”

The Daily obtained images of whiteboards labeled “Runsgiving” and “Shrek’s List,” containing a list of names indicating players that the player said needed to be “ran.”

The former player also said that the signal for the hazing ritual was the clapping of hands over the head of a player. He alleged that players understood that Fitzgerald was aware of the ritual.

According to the player who spoke with The Daily, Fitzgerald repeatedly made the signal during practices when players, specifically freshmen, made a mistake.

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

Fitzgerald said in a statement after his suspension that he was not aware of the alleged incidents.

“I was very disappointed when I heard about the allegations of hazing on our football team,” Fitzgerald said in his statement. “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.”

Northwestern players defend Pat Fitzgerald in letter

A letter set out Saturday night on behalf of the current players of the Northwestern team claimed the player's allegations were "exaggerated and twisted."

“The recent allegations brought forth are exaggerated and twisted,” the letter said. “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.”

You can read the letter in full here.

The Daily Northwestern article also mentioned other allegations of hazing rituals, including a practice where freshmen had to duplicate a snap from the center to the quarterback while both players were naked. It also cited a second player who noted the existence of the ritual.

Northwestern president says he 'erred' with Pat Fitzgerald suspension

Later Saturday, Northwestern president Michael Schill released a letter addressing the situation.

Schill maintained there was no direct evidence that Fitzgerald was aware of the hazing, but admitted he "erred" with the light punishment for the coach. He said Fitzgerald should have known about the hazing as he is responsible for all facets of the program:

After reviewing the report, I assessed a two-week suspension for Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, which went into effect immediately. However, upon reflection, I believe I may have erred in weighing the appropriate sanction for Coach Fitzgerald.

The confidential report concluded that while there was corroborating evidence that hazing had occurred, there was no direct evidence that Coach Fitzgerald was aware of the hazing. 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 that commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a sanction.

Since Fitzgerald's suspension began Friday, it doesn't impact his presence during any on-field preparations for the 2023 season. Northwestern went 1-11 in 2022 in the worst season of Fitzgerald's tenure with the team. He's been the team's head coach since 2006 and has a 110-101 record.