Northwestern’s athletic director has issued a statement after multiple members of the team’s coaching and support staffs were seen wearing T-shirts expressing support for former football coach Pat Fitzgerald, who was fired in the wake of an investigation into hazing allegations at the school.
The shirts, which said “Cats Against the World,” sparked an immediate firestorm of controversy, and Vice President of Athletics and Recreation Derrick Gragg spoke out against the shirts.
“I am extremely disappointed that a few members of our football program decided to wear ‘Cats Against the World’ T-shirts,” Gragg said. “Neither I, nor the university, were aware that they owned or would wear those shirts today. The shirts are inappropriate, offensive and tone deaf. Let me be crystal clear: hazing has no place at Northwestern, and we are committed to do whatever is necessary to address hazing-related issues, including thoroughly investigating any incidents or allegations of hazing or any other misconduct.”
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Northwestern’s interim head coach, David Braun, was asked about the shirts after practice but called the matter one of free speech.
“It certainly isn’t my business to censor anyone’s free speech,” he said.
Fitzgerald, who had been the coach since 2006, was fired last month after the release of a report into allegations of hazing within the football program.
That report did not find evidence that Fitzgerald had known about the hazing, but found that he had “ample opportunity” to find out about it.
Numerous lawsuits have been filed in the wake of his departure, with former players accusing the coaching staff of looking past, and sometimes even encouraging, hazing behavior that included sexual assault and racist actions.
Northwestern will kick off their 2023 season on Sept. 3 with a Sunday game against Rutgers. The team's home schedule will get underway on Sept. 9 against UTEP in Evanston.