Northwestern University

Report: Former Northwestern football player alleges sexual assault among hazing acts investigated by school

In a statement issued to NBC Chicago on Saturday, a school spokesman said, "Our first priority is to support and protect our students, including the young man who brought these matters to our attention."

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Editor's note: Details in this story are graphic and may be disturbing to some readers.

A former Northwestern University football player told the school's student newspaper that instances of sexual assault were among the hazing conduct allegations being investigated by the university, The Daily Northwestern wrote in a report published Saturday.

The player, who spoke to the newspaper anonymously, said he reported his experiences to the university late last fall and alleged a specific hazing practice called "running" took place. He said "running" involved a group of eight to 10 upperclassmen dressed in "Purge-like" masks who would "dry-hump" a team member, typically a freshman, in a dark room.

The player also told The Daily Northwestern that head coach Pat Fitzgerald may have known the hazing was taking place.

On Friday, Northwestern University announced that Fitzgerald would be issued a two-week, no-pay suspension on the heels of a months-long investigation into allegations of hazing in the football program.

Responding to a request for comment from NBC Chicago, Northwestern University's Vice President for Global Marketing and Communications Jon Yates offered the following statement:

"Our first priority is to support and protect our students, including the young man who brought these matters to our attention and all student-athletes who had the courage to come forward in this independent investigation," the statement read. "That is why the University immediately opened this investigation upon learning of the allegations and why we took decisive action once we ascertained the facts. Out of respect for the privacy of our student-athletes, we will not comment about the findings beyond what we stated in the release and executive summary of the investigation."

The investigation was launched in December 2022 and led by Maggie Hickey of ArentFox Schiff, the former inspector general of Illinois, the school said. It included interviews with current and former players, coaches and staff, as well as a review of thousands of documents.

Fitzgerald said in a statement issued Friday that was he was "not aware of the alleged incidents."

“I was very disappointed when I heard about the allegations of hazing on our football team,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “Although I was not aware of the alleged incidents, I have spoken to university officials, and they informed me of a two-week suspension, effective immediately. Northwestern football prides itself on producing not just athletes, but fine young men with character befitting the program and our University. We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward.”

According to the player who spoke to The Daily Northwestern, the "running" practice was particularly prevalent during training camp, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas. The two holidays were referred to as "Runsgiving" and "Runsmas" by members of the team, the player said, according to the report.

The player said that teammates would identify players for "running" by clapping their hands above their head around the player being targeted, a practice known as the "Shrek clap," according to the report.

The player further alleged that Fitzgerald made the clapping signal during practices when players, particularly freshmen, made mistakes, according to the report.

The Daily Northwestern reported that the whistleblower detailed other specific hazing practices, alleging that he witnessed instances of freshman team members being forced to strip naked and perform various acts, such as bear crawling and sling-shotting themselves across the room with exercise bands.

According to The Daily Northwestern, one player described an annual hazing tradition that players dubbed "the carwash," alleging that players would stand naked at the entrance of the showers and spin around, forcing those entering to likely make incidental contact with them.

The player also alleged that teammates set up a hose they connected to the shower to spray people, which the player described to The Daily Northwestern as "extremely painful."

Another hazing practice, a naked center-quarterback exchange, was described by the player to The Daily Northwestern.

The player said he witnessed and was forced to participate in the hazing, in which a freshman quarterback would be forced to take an under-center snap while both players were naked.

According to The Daily Northwestern, the player said that in one instance, a teammate was "very vocally adamant" about not wanting to participate in exchange.

In response, older players threatened to "run him," while saying that refusing to participate wasn't an option, the report detailed.

Another hazing practice detailed in The Daily Northwestern report was known as the "Gatorade shake challenge," in which players were forced to drink as many Gatorade shakes as possible in a 10-minute period.

One player who spoke to The Daily Northwestern said that a friend of his who was forced to participate in the challenge felt sick and had trouble eating for several days afterwards.

The player also said he observed teammates deal with significant mental health challenges after enduring the hazing, telling The Daily Northwestern that one friend admitted he had "suicidal tendencies."

The investigation from ArentFox Schiff found that participation or knowledge in the hazing activities present on the team were widespread among the players.

"Hickey’s investigation found that 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 in a statement.

The university said the investigation did not find evidence that coach staff knew about the hazing, but noted "investigators said that there had been opportunities for them to discover and report the hazing conduct."

“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,” said university President Michael Schill. “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.”

The full list of measures the university said it plans to take includes:

  • Head coach Fitzgerald has been placed on a two-week suspension without pay, beginning immediately.
  • Football practices at “Camp Kenosha” in Wisconsin will be permanently discontinued.
  • The University will require monitoring of the football locker room by someone who doesn’t report to the football coaching staff.
  • The University will create an online reporting tool specifically for student athletes to anonymously report incidents of potential hazing or hazing-related concerns.
  • The University will provide and require annual mandatory anti-hazing training for all coaches, staff members and student-athletes, with an emphasis on reporting options, the duties to report, discipline for future violations and the fact that hazing is not acceptable regardless of consent.
  • The University will form an internal working group comprising Northwestern leaders across various disciplines to create a report on policy development, organizational culture, communication, training and enforcement. The group will solicit input from external experts and will make their report open to the entire community.
  • Northwestern Athletics will better utilize the annual student-athlete-survey process to ensure coaches are aware of and act on student concerns.
  • Northwestern Athletics will work with the NCAA and Big Ten Conference to ensure all processes and rules are followed.
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