Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and State Rep. Kam Buckner both expressed their concern about allegations of hazing within the Northwestern football program, with both leaders calling for further action in response to the situation.
Those allegations led to the suspension of football coach Pat Fitzgerald for two weeks, but amid new allegations published by the Daily Northwestern, the school says it is reevaluating the punishment and the factors that led to the investigation.
During a tourism press conference on Monday, both Pritzker and Buckner were asked for their reaction to the unfolding situation.
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“I’m glad the Northwestern president came out with a statement over the weekend calling for accountability, which is vitally important,” Pritzker said. “This is not something that should be taken lightly, and the Northwestern leadership is not taking it lightly, and as more information has gotten to them, they’ve done an independent review.”
The governor said that people in positions of leadership need to be held accountable for their actions, but declined to get into further specifics.
Buckner, who played defensive end at the University of Illinois prior to his career in politics, has been pushing for legislation to protect student-athletes in Springfield, and said that the scandal underscores the need for such protections.
“The legislation we’re working on now does a lot for gender equity and educational benefits, but after what we heard this weekend regarding these allegations, I wanted to pause and come back and see if there are things we could add to put in place in these situations,” he said. “Hazing is already illegal in Illinois, but there are some things we can codify to strengthen what we already have in place.”
Buckner said he has been friends with Fitzgerald for decades, but said that there are still more “questions than answers” in the disturbing case.
“Pat Fitzgerald has been a friend of mine for 20 years, and I know him to be an honorable man, but these are disturbing allegations,” he said.
The situation began to unfold on Friday when Northwestern released an executive summary of an independent investigation into allegations of hazing within the school’s football program.
That investigation found that Fitzgerald and his coaching staff did not appear to be aware of the hazing practices that were alleged to have taken place, but that they had “significant opportunities” to find out.
As a result, Fitzgerald was suspended for two weeks.
The following day, The Daily Northwestern published a story detailing the allegations of the former player that had been the subject of that investigation, which included specific instances of hazing and sexual abuse.”
President Michael Schill wrote an open letter to the school on Saturday night, saying that “he may have erred” in assessing a two-week suspension and that he would coordinate with university leadership on next steps, which could include additional punishment.
Players on the team defended Fitzgerald in a public statement of their own, saying that they “do not tolerate hazing in any form,” and that the allegations were “exaggerated and twisted.”
Finally on Monday, three former players were quoted in The Daily Northwestern alleging that the program had a “culture of enabling racism,” and that the team “felt segregated.”
Northwestern officials later released a statement arguing that they were “not aware” of the allegations, but that such behavior “would be entirely unacceptable and inconsistent with our culture and values, if true.”