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Northwestern University Hazing Scandal: The Wildcat Way

Northwestern University’s head football coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired Monday after several players came forward with allegations of hazing within the football program. Amid accusations of hazing, there have also been accusations of a racist culture within the football program.  

After details surfaced about the hazing, Fitzgerald was initially suspended without pay. However, as various past and present players came forward with allegations, the university’s president Michael Schill fired Fitgerald three days after his suspension. Fitzgerald claimed that he was not aware of the hazing, but multiple players claimed that he did not promote a culture of care, either. 

"The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team,” said Schill. “The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing Coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening. Either way, the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others."

Northwestern decided to keep the investigation private, but they have revealed some findings. Eleven current or former football players acknowledged ongoing hazing within the program. The hazing was forced, and it often involved “nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature.” The hazing was well-known by many in the program, but it is still unclear whether Fitzgerald was aware. 

The primary type of hazing for which the program was accused of is known as “running.” Running was often a punishment for the younger players when they made a mistake in a practice or game. In a story published in The Daily Northwestern, the athlete who had to partake in “running” was allegedly restrained by an upperclassman and “dry-humped” 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 standing in the locker room," the unidentified former player told The Daily Northwestern. "It's just a really abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout that program for years on end now." 

With the emergence of hazing allegations came the racism allegations that have systematically permeated the Wildcats football program. 

Three former football players told The Daily that there was a “culture of enabling racism” among both coaches and players. 

Ramon Diaz Jr., who played for the Wildcats from 2005-2008, said his experience as a non white player was hostile: “I didn’t feel like I could be anything other than white,” Diaz told The Daily. “We never felt like we could be ourselves. We had to fit in by being white or acting white or laughing at our own people.”

Another player, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed that racism was often blatant. He explained that Fitzgerald would ask Black players and coaches to cut their hair a certain way to align with the “Wildcat Way.” The player said that this phrase, along with “good, clean American fun” was often used by coaches to convey how athletes should act and conduct themselves. 

Despite the ongoing list of accusations, Fitzgerald is fighting back. Fitzgerald is a revered NU alumnus, as he is a College Football Hall of Fame linebacker and two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (1995, 1996) along with various other accolades. When he returned to the Wildcats football program, he led the Wildcats to eleven bowl appearances in his seventeen seasons. Fitzgerald is not going down easy after dedicating the majority of his life to NU. 

As allegations and accusations continue to emerge about Northwestern’s football program, it provokes one to consider what truly is the “Wildcat Way”? 

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