In a letter released late Saturday, Northwestern University President Michael Schill says he “may have erred” in only giving football coach Pat Fitzgerald a two-week suspension following the release of an executive summary of an investigation into alleged hazing incidents within the program.
Schill says that Fitzgerald “failed to uphold” his commitment to players and students, and that the university’s president also failed in “sufficiently considering that failure” when suspending Fitzgerald for two weeks.
“Upon reflection, I believe I may have erred in weighing the appropriate sanction for Coach Fitzgerald,” Schill said. “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 and our priority to ensure all students — undergraduate and graduate — can thrive during their time at Northwestern.
“Clearly, he failed to uphold that commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a suspension,” he added.
Schill says he will discuss next steps with university leadership, the school’s board of trustees and the faculty senate.
On Friday, the university released an executive summary of an independent investigation into allegations of hazing within the Northwestern football program. That summary did not detail where the hazing took place, but concluded that there was “evidence to corroborate claims” of hazing, and that the football team’s coaching staff may not have known about the situation, but that “there had been opportunities for them to discover and report the hazing conduct.”
Following the release of that summary, the school announced that Fitzgerald would be suspended for two weeks, effective immediately.
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.”
A new phase of the story began Saturday when The Daily Northwestern, the university’s student newspaper, published a report in which a former football player told the publication that instances of sexual assault were among the hazing conduct allegations being investigated by the university.
Schill says he attempted to reach out to the player after learning his identity this weekend, and wanted to “offer his apologies” directly.
Following those new revelations, embers of Northwestern University’s football team have released a statement regarding the situation, expressing their support for Fitzgerald and denying wrongdoing.
NBC Chicago’s Mike Berman spoke with a current Wildcats player who shared the letter, which the individual claims was signed by the entire team and is being presented as a “unified group.” The player who spoke to NBC Chicago asked to remain anonymous.
In the letter addressed to the Northwestern community, the players, in part, called the recent allegations that have been brought forth “exaggerated and twisted.”
“These fabrications have been made with the intention of harming our program and tarnish the reputation of our dedicated players and coaching staff,” they stated, in part. “We firmly deny the validity of these accusations and stand united in our assertion that they do not reflect the true character of the team.”
The players wrote in defense of Fitzgerald, alleging he was “not involved in any of the alleged incidents in any way, shape or form.”
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.
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.
The complete letter, sent by a Northwestern player to NBC Chicago, can be found here.