Former Northwestern football players allege racism in program as fallout from hazing scandal continues

3 former Northwestern players have brought forth allegations of racism within the program of longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald

More allegations have emerged involving the Northwestern football program.

As the fallout from a hazing scandal in the football program continues, three former Northwestern players have brought forth allegations of racism within the program of longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who was hit with a two-week suspension as a result of the hazing investigation.

Ramon Diaz Jr., who is Latino and played offensive line for the Wildcats from 2005 to 2008, told The Daily Northwestern that he “didn’t feel like [he] could be anything other than white,” described being on the receiving end of multiple racist remarks and said he received a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis after graduation. Diaz now works as a clinical therapist.

From The Daily Northwestern:

Diaz, the former offensive lineman, is now a clinical therapist. He said the program’s culture had a profound mental impact on him. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after graduating from Northwestern, and said that his time on the football team was a major factor in that diagnosis. After graduating he would have flashbacks and nightmares of things that happened in the football locker room, he said.

“The fact that I’m still going to a therapist and talking about these things after more than 10 years is indicative of the mental health state I was left in,” Diaz said. “I didn’t even watch a football game again for almost five years after I left Northwestern. It was that negative of an experience for me that I didn’t want anything to do with the sport.”

Diaz described several racist remarks players and coaches said to him. One teammate asked him why he didn’t play soccer instead of football. He said he was also forced to shave “Cinco de Mayo” into his hair during a tradition where freshmen would shave messages on their heads.

Another player, who requested to remain anonymous, recalled several instances of racism to The Daily Northwestern.

Both Diaz and the second anonymous player detailed an instance in which a former offensive line coach joked by asking Diaz how to clean a dirty room. The coach then made a racist joke about how Diaz’s family must know how to clean houses, both former players said.

Diaz said he heard the same coach tell a Black teammate to stop wearing certain hats because he “wasn’t in the hood anymore,” before calling the way he walked a “gangster walk.” He also said he once heard a player tell another Black teammate to show him “how monkeys act.”

Another player said it felt like the team was segregated by race, including Fitzgerald asking Black players and coaches with long hair (including dreadlocks) to cut their hair, but not doing the same to white players with long hair. One of the former players told The Daily Northwestern that he was asked to cut off his dreadlocks.

Another player, who asked to remain anonymous and played through the 2009 season, said racism on the team was often blatant. He alleged head coach Pat Fitzgerald would ask Black players and coaches to cut off longer hairstyles — including dreadlocks — so that they were more in line with what Fitzgerald called the “Wildcat Way.” The player said this phrase — along with “good, clean American fun” — was used often by coaches to reference how they wanted players to look and act.

Former player alleges ‘vile and inhumane’ hazing at Northwestern

Fitzgerald, a star linebacker for the Wildcats in the '90s who has been the program’s head coach since 2006, was hit with a two-week suspension without pay following an investigation into allegations of hazing within the football program.

Northwestern, which announced the suspension on Friday, said it did not find “sufficient evidence” that Fitzgerald or members of his coaching staff were aware of the hazing. However, investigators did conclude that there were “significant opportunities” for the coaches to “discover and report the hazing conduct.”

In addition to Fitzgerald’s two-week suspension, which was set to begin immediately, Northwestern said it would discontinue holding football training camp in Kenosha, Wisconsin (where some of the hazing allegedly took place), and mandate monitoring of the football locker room by “someone who doesn’t report to the football coaching staff.”

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald is now facing allegations of racism while already serving a suspension for alleged hazing within the football program. (Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald is now facing allegations of racism while already serving a suspension for alleged hazing within the football program. (Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

Northwestern only released a summary of the investigation with very few details. Fitzgerald said in a statement that he was “disappointed” to learn of the hazing allegations but maintained that he was unaware of the alleged incidents.

The day after the summary was released, an anonymous former Northwestern player described the alleged hazing acts to The Daily Northwestern, characterizing them as “vile and inhumane behavior.” The player also claimed that Fitzgerald was aware of the ongoing hazing and even encouraged it.

Later Saturday, Northwestern president Michael Schill released a statement saying he “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,” Schill said.

“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.”

Many Northwestern players have defended Fitzgerald

Many current and former Northwestern players defended Fitzgerald on social media.

There was also a letter sent out by “the entire Northwestern football team” saying the allegations made by the anonymous former player to The Daily Northwestern on Saturday were “exaggerated and twisted.”

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