Northwestern Suspends Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald for Two Weeks After Hazing Allegations

From a story on by Chris Vannini and Scott Dochterman headlined “Northwestern suspends coach Pat Fitzgerald for 2 weeks after investigation into hazing allegations”:

Northwestern is suspending coach Pat Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay after an investigation found hazing allegations within the football program to be credible.

“While the investigation did not uncover evidence pointing to specific misconduct by any individual football player or coach, participation in or knowledge of the hazing activities was widespread across football players,” Northwestern said.

Additionally, investigators did not find “sufficient evidence” that the coaching staff knew about the hazing. However, investigators discovered there had been significant opportunities to discover and report the hazing.

“I was very disappointed when I heard about the allegations of hazing on our football team,” Fitzgerald said in a statement, adding he “was not aware of the alleged incidents.”

The school retained outside investigator Maggie Hickey from law firm ArentFox Schiff to look into the allegations of potential hazing within the football program after receiving a complaint through an anonymous email on Nov. 30, 2022. According to Northwestern, the complainant spoke with investigators the following month. Northwestern publicly disclosed the investigation in January.

The summary revealed the complainant’s allegations involved football players pressuring team members into participating in hazing activities and often in the locker room. According to the complainant, the hazing may have started at Camp Kenosha in Kenosha, Wis., where the team used to hold training camp.

A former player told The Daily Northwestern that the hazing included forced sexual acts.

Northwestern said it is implementing changes to “improve the culture of the football program” and help prevent hazing throughout its athletic programs. The changes include:

Permanently discontinuing practices at Camp Kenosha.

The university will have someone monitoring the locker room who doesn’t report to the football coaching staff.

Northwestern will create an online reporting tool for student-athletes to anonymously report incidents of potential hazing or hazing-related concerns.

Coaches, staff members and student-athletes will complete annual mandatory anti-hazing training, with an emphasis on reporting options, the
duties to report and discipline for future violations.

Investigators interviewed more than 50 people affiliated or formerly affiliated with the football program and reviewed hundreds of thousands of emails and player survey data dating back to 2014 throughout the inquiry.

“We respect the courage of the individuals who came forward to make us aware of the issue, and we vow to do our part to create a more positive environment moving forward,” vice president for athletics and recreation Derrick Gragg said.

The significance of canceling Camp Kenosha

The investigation’s focus on preseason practice in Kenosha, Wis. was noteworthy. Since 1992, Northwestern has spent at least one week in August practicing at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (outside of 2020). The idea is the unique training situation and dorm life creates team bonding by keeping everyone together.

But according to the investigation, the complainant alleged that the hazing may have started at Camp Kenosha, where the team used to hold training camp. There is less oversight when practicing away from campus, so it’s not surprising that hazing could happen there. Permanently discontinuing this practice ends a Northwestern tradition, but based on this investigation, it had to be done. — Vannini

What this means for Northwestern going forward

Hazing is difficult to interpret if there’s no egregious incident that stands out. Player opinions are ambiguous in the seriousness of this situation, but an independent investigation team found the claims credible and knowledge of hazing activities “was widespread” among players. Where it gets tricky is “the investigation did not uncover evidence pointing to specific misconduct by any individual football player or coach.”

Hazing mostly is a form of bullying, and Northwestern appears to take this situation seriously. Suspending Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay during the recruiting dead period and before training camp is akin to not paying him for going on vacation. But the public relations hit is significant for a coach with nary an off-field issue to his otherwise sterling resume.

Likewise, Northwestern takes all of the right measures to ensure hazing is not tolerated in football and indirectly in every other sport. But the real impact will come this football season and beyond, especially if another incident emerges. Then we’ll know if hazing is cultural to Northwestern or just a series of sporadic juvenile incidents. — Dochterman

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