A shocking report of hazing at Northwestern University has led to the firing of the school’s longtime football coach, Pat Fitzgerald. He was let go Monday night after investigators found evidence to back up claims by some of his players.
Fitzgerald told ESPN he had “no knowledge whatsoever of any form of hazing within the Northwestern football program.”
Fitzgerald, once a star linebacker for the Northwestern Wildcats, had led the team for 17 seasons. Last Friday, he was suspended for two weeks without pay. But after new allegations over the weekend, the university president took a step further and fired him for allegedly failing to know about and prevent ongoing incidents of hazing within the football program.
In a statement, Northwestern’s president said the head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team.
On Saturday, the student newspaper detailed what an anonymous former player described as an “abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout the program for years.”
In one alleged ritual known as “running,” he says a younger player would be restrained by a group of eight to 10 older players while they dry humped him in a dark locker room.
“Rubbing your genitals on another person’s body, I mean, that’s coercion. That’s predatory behavior,” said Ramon Diaz Jr., who was an offensive lineman for Northwestern from 2005 to 2009.
Diaz, who is now 36 years old, said hazing was common in the locker room.
“People were urinating on other people in the showers,” he said.
The son of Mexican immigrants said he was not only the target of sexualized hazing incidents, but also rampant racism. In one instance he says he was forced to have “Cinco de Mayo” shaved into his hair as a freshman.
“It’s very intentional,” he said. “You could have put anything or you could have shaped anything into my head. And they decided that that would be the funniest.”
Northwestern said that while an independent investigation did not find “sufficient” evidence that the coaching staff knew about ongoing hazing, there were “significant opportunities” to find out about it.
“Everybody saw it,” Diaz said. “So many eyes. I mean, there were so many players and nobody did anything and they just let this go on for years.”
Diaz said his experience at Northwestern drove him to become a therapist.
“We were conditioned and put into a system that has broken and that has ruined many lives, including mine,” he said. “I was driven by what I saw and those images will never leave me for the rest of my life.”
While the school president did not address alleged racism in his decision to fire Fitzgerald, a spokesperson told the school paper they are looking into the allegations.
In a letter to several media outlets, the Northwestern football team showed its support for Fitzgerald, calling the hazing allegations “exaggerated” and “twisted” and saying Northwestern football players do not tolerate hazing.
In a 2014 video, Fitzgerald said his program had a zero tolerance policy for hazing.
“We’ve really thought deep about how we want to welcome our new family members into our programs and into our organizations, hazing should have nothing to do with it,” he said at the time.