Northwestern Suspends Head Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald for 2 Weeks Following Hazing Investigation, Additional Action Possible

Head football coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois, on Oct. 8, 2022. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images via CNN)Head football coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois, on Oct. 8, 2022. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images via CNN)

(CNN) — Northwestern University has suspended head football coach Pat Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay following an investigation into allegations of hazing within the Wildcats’ program, the school announced Friday.

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The independent investigation, conducted by a former Illinois inspector general, began in December to review a complaint from an anonymous email address received at the end of the 2022 season, according to an executive summary of the investigation made public by the university.

The investigation determined that Fitzgerald and other coaching staff members did not know about the hazing, but “there had been opportunities for them to discover and report the hazing conduct,” the university said in a news release.

“While current and former players varied on their perspectives about the conduct, the whistleblower’s claims were largely supported by the evidence,” the university said.

On Saturday, the school’s student newspaper, the Daily Northwestern, published an interview with a former football player who detailed the alleged hazing in more depth.

“It’s done under this smoke and mirror of ‘oh, this is team bonding,’ but no, this is sexual abuse,” the player told the Daily Northwestern. Read the full story.

Later on Saturday, Northwestern University President Michael Schill released a statement saying limiting the response to the initial two week suspension will be reconsidered.
“Clearly, he failed to uphold that commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a sanction,” he wrote. 

The whistleblower alleged that football players pressured team members into participating in hazing activities, which typically occurred in the locker room and may have started at “Camp Kenosha” in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the team held training camp, the summary says.

Fitzgerald, who is suspended effective immediately, said he is “disappointed” to learn of the hazing allegations, adding he was not “aware” of any of the alleged activities.

“Northwestern football prides itself on producing not just athletes, but fine young men with character befitting the program and our University,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward.”

The probe was led by former state executive inspector general Maggie Hickey, whose team found “evidence to corroborate claims made by an anonymous whistleblower regarding hazing activities and events,” the university said. In addition to speaking with the whistleblower, Hickey’s team interviewed more than 50 people affiliated or formerly affiliated with the football program.

Following the report’s findings, the school will take several additional actions going forward, including discontinuing practices at “Camp Kenosha.” The university, located in Evanston, Illinois, will also require locker room monitoring by “someone who doesn’t report to the football coaching staff,” the news release states.

An online tool dedicated to reporting incidents of potential hazing or hazing-related concerns among student-athletes will be created, the university said. Coaches, staff members and student-athletes must complete an annual mandatory anti-hazing training.

“Hazing in any form is unacceptable and goes against our core values at Northwestern, where we strive to make the University a safe and welcoming environment for all of our students,” Northwestern University president Michael Schill said. “Our athletics programs are held to the highest standards, and in this case, we failed to meet them. I expect that today’s actions will prevent this from ever happening again.”

Fitzgerald, 48, is entering his 18th season coaching the Wildcats. The program under Fitzgerald has won four bowl games since 2016, yet the team fell to a 1-11 record last season.

The Wildcats are scheduled to open the 2023 season on September 3 at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

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