Content warning: This article contains mention of hazing and sexual assault
Nicole Markus, Alyce Brown, Cole Reynolds, and Divya Bhardwaj reported that a former Northwestern football player described the hazing process that went on during former head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure. These acts included coerced sexual acts, and Coach Fitzgerald had an idea these actions were taking place. One player said they saw it with their own eyes and called it vile and inhumane behavior. The player alleged the hazing practice was dubbed as “running.” This practice was used to punish team members for mistakes they made on the field and in practice.
Players selected for running would be restrained by eight to ten teammates dressed in masks, and then they would “dry-hump” the victim in a dark locker room. Other teammates were bystanders in the locker room, and the player said the practice has permeated throughout the program for years.
There were whiteboards in the locker room labeled “Runsgiving” and “Shrek’s List,” containing a list of names indicating players that the player said needed to be “ran.” The players said this activity was team bonding, so the university never caught onto these incidents as hazing until now.
In addition to “running,” the whistleblower alleged that he witnessed the team participate in other hazing traditions in which freshmen were forced to strip naked and perform various acts, including bear crawling and slingshotting themselves across the floor with exercise bands.
In a once-a-year tradition dubbed “the carwash,” the first player said that some players would stand naked at the entrance to the showers and spin around, forcing those entering the showers to “basically (rub) up against a bare-naked man.” Upon entering the showers, the player alleged that players set up a hose they connected to the shower to spray people.
After receiving the hazing reports, NU hired an independent law firm, ArentFox Schiff, to investigate the claims.
Lead investigator Maggie Hickey, former inspector general of Illinois, interviewed coaches, staff, and current and former players, and reviewed thousands of documents, according to a news release by the University. She found the player’s comments were largely supported by evidence, and the knowledge of these practices was widespread across Northwestern football players.
Originally, Northwestern president Michael Schill suspended Coach Fitzgerald for two weeks. After taking time over the weekend to look further into these allegations, the president decided to terminate Coach Fitzgerald.
President Schill wrote his reasoning for terminating Coach Fitzgerald: “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.” “Clearly, he failed to uphold that commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a sanction.”
Alex Patterson is a Thomas M. Cooley Law School graduate and works for the City of Springfield as a paralegal. He played football for seventeen years as an offensive and defensive lineman. He graduated from Lindenwood University-Belleville in 2018 with a Bachelor’s in Sports Management. He can be followed on Twitter @alpatt71.