Northwestern University's head football coach will be suspended and other measures put in place following a months-long investigation into hazing allegations in its program, the university announced Friday.
As a result of the independent investigation, which began at the end of the 2022 season and ultimately found evidence of hazing, according to the university, head football coach Pat Fitzgerald will serve a two-week suspension without pay. The suspension is set to begin Friday and will be over before the school's 2023 season begins.
“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.”
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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.
While details of the investigation were deemed "confidential," the university said it did find "evidence to corroborate claims made by an anonymous whistleblower regarding hazing activities and events."
"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."
Among the other actions being taken, the school said it will permanently suspend training camps in Kenosha, Wisconsin; monitor football locker rooms; and implement new "anti-hazing reporting processes and education programs for football players, coaches and staff."
“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.
“Northwestern Athletics prides itself on providing a world-class student-athlete experience, which includes a safe and respectful environment for all of our students, coaches and staff,” Combe Family Vice President for Athletics & Recreation Derrick Gragg said in a statement. “We respect the courage of the individuals who came forward to make us aware of the issue, and we vow to do our part to create a more positive environment moving forward.”