Members of the Northwestern football team are pushing back against the latest raunchy claims of abuse-filled hazing in their program as the school could levy an even heavier penalty on their coach.
“The recent allegations brought forth are exaggerated and twisted,” the players claimed in a joint letter from the “ENTIRE” team late Saturday via ESPN.
“It is disheartening to see that the allegations brought forth against our team have been exaggerated and twisted into lies. These fabrications have been made with the intention of harming our program and tarnish the reputation of our dedicated players and coaching staff. We firmly deny the validity of these accusations and stand united in our assertion that they do not reflect the true character of our team.”
The allegations were brought forth by anonymous players to the university’s student newspaper “The Daily Northwestern” in an article Saturday detailing a series of hazing rituals including one called “running” and claims of coerced sexual acts.
The report says that the freshman would be “getting ran” by eight to 10 upperclassmen while wearing masks, who are holding the freshman down and dry-humping them.
Another alleged ritual the players claimed in the article was called the “car wash” where in which some players would stand naked at the shower entrances to the showers and spin, forcing anyone entering to rub up against them.
“It’s just a really abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout that program for years on end now,” an anonymous player explained of the hazing in the article.
The players who spoke to the Daily Northwestern claimed head coach, Pat Fitzgerald might have been aware of the hazing — citing the hazers allegedly identified victims using a clapping gesture similar to one the coach used at practice.
In the letter from the team, the group stood by Fitzgerald, stating he wasn’t a part of any alleged hazing incidents and pointing out the school hired an independent private investigation firm to probe the hazing accusations for a “rigorous six months.”
“It is crucial to note that our Head Coach, Pat Fitzgerald, was not involved in any of the alleged incidents in any way, shape, or form,” the letter said. “Coach Fitzgerald had no knowledge of these allegations until they were brought to his attention during the investigation.”
“Throughout his tenure, Coach Fitzgerald has consistently prioritized the well-being and development of his players, and we stand behind him in his unwavering commitment to our team.”
Fitzgerald has been the Northwestern coach since 2006 and was initially slapped with a two-week unpaid suspension by the school.
He addressed the investigation program and his suspension on Friday.
“I was very disappointed when I heard about the allegations of hazing on our football teams,” Fitzgerald said.
“We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward.”
But the school may revisit that decision in light of the new allegations stemming from the student-newspaper article.
“In determining an appropriate penalty for the head coach, I focused too much on what the report concluded he didn’t know and not enough on what he should have known,” University president Michael Schill wrote in a letter sent Saturday to the Northwestern community per ESPN, explaining his punishment of Fitzgerald.
“As the head coach of one of our athletics programs, coach Fitzgerald is not only responsible for what happens within the program but also must take great care to uphold our institutional commitment to the student experience. … Clearly, he failed to uphold that commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a sanction.”
Schill is expected to meet with the board of trustees and other University staff members to determine a proper punishment for their coach, according to ESPN.
Alongside the initial Fitzgerald suspension were a few other changes to the University policy, including no more preseason practices in Camp Kenosha, Wisc. and mandating a non-coaching staff member to monitor the locker rooms.
“Northwestern Football players DO NOT tolerate hazing,” the team said in its letter. “We want to reiterate that as representatives of the Northwestern Football program, we do not tolerate hazing in any form. Hazing goes against our values of respect, integrity and personal growth.”
Northwestern heads into its season with plenty of uncertainty about how it will go forward as the season rapidly approaches.
They are slated to open their season on Sept. 3 in New Brunswick as they face the Rutgers Scarlett Knights.