Video: Joining “Chicago Tonight” are Rick Telander, a sports columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times who played football at Northwestern University, and Susan Lipkins, a psychologist and author of “Preventing Hazing.” (Produced by Blair Paddock)
Northwestern University has fired head football coach Pat Fitzgerald as new details continue to emerge about a hazing scandal that allegedly involved “sexualized acts of a degrading nature” and went on for years under his watch.
University President Michael Schill initially suspended Fitzgerald for two weeks following an independent investigation, but said he ultimately decided to fire the coach “for his failure to know and prevent significant hazing in the football program.”
“Since Friday, I have kept going back to what we should reasonably expect from our head coaches, our faculty and our campus leaders,” Schill said in a statement Monday evening. “And that is what led me to make this decision. The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team.
“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.”
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.
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.
The investigation 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.”
Fitzgerald, a Northwestern alumnus, played on the university’s football team from 1993-1996. He began coaching there in 2001 and became head coach in 2006.
In a statement provided to ESPN, Fitzgerald said that he had instructed his attorney — former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, who also acted as special prosecutor in the Jussie Smollett case — to “take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law.”
According to Schill, the investigation found eleven current or former football players have acknowledged that hazing has been ongoing within the football program. That hazing, Schill said in his statement, included “forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature, in clear violation of Northwestern policies and values.”
“I recognize that my decision will not be universally applauded, and there will be those in our community who may vehemently disagree with it,” Schill said. “Ultimately, I am charged with acting in the best interests of the entire University, and this decision is reflective of that. The damage done to our institution is significant, as is the harm to some of our students.”
The turmoil in the school’s football program comes just as the university is planning to construct a new stadium to replace the aging Ryan Field. With a price tag of around $800 million, the privately-funded stadium would be smaller than the current one but would feature a host of state-of-the-art features.
Also on Monday, reports emerged that Northwestern’s baseball team is also is dealing with its own coaching controversy. According to reporting in the Chicago Tribune, a probe was launched into problematic behavior by first-year head coach Jim Foster.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.