Northwestern football coach fired amid revelations of homophobic & abusive hazing rituals

Author: Daniel Villarreal

Northwestern University (NU) has fired its head football coach of 18 years, Pat Fitzgerald, amid accusations that he knew of player hazing rituals that included male-on-male sexual assault.

A former NU football player and another player said that upperclassmen team members would punish younger players who made on-field and in-practice mistakes by “running” them. Running involved 8 to 10 upperclassmen dressed in masks who would restrain and “dry-hump” victims in a dark locker room, the players told The Daily Northwestern.

The hazing was especially prevalent during training camp and around Thanksgiving and Christmas, the publication said, adding that it had seen whiteboard “run lists” of younger players who were targeted for hazing. Upperclass players and Coach Fitzgerald reportedly used an on-field, over-the-head clap (referred to as the “Shrek clap”) to signify which younger players had made a mistake and needed to be hazed, the publication suggested.

Other hazing rituals involved forcing freshmen to strip naked and then crawl on the floor, imitate on-field plays with another naked freshman, or enter the shower by first passing through a crowd of naked teammates before being painfully sprayed by a hose.

The former player called the hazing “absolutely egregious and vile and inhumane behavior” and also “really abrasive and barbaric,” saying the hazing tradition had continued for years under Fitzgerald’s watch. All of the activities described above fall under NU’s descriptions of hazing, sexual misconduct, violence, assault, exploitation, and harassment — all of which are prohibited by NU’s student policies.

“It’s a shocking experience as a freshman to see your fellow freshman teammates get ran, but then you see everybody bystanding in the locker room,” the player said. “It’s done under this smoke and mirror of ‘oh, this is team bonding,’ but no, this is sexual abuse…. Everyone would just be looking at each other and be like ‘Bro, [Coach Fitzgerald] knows about this,’ because you wouldn’t take that action otherwise.”

NU hired an independent law firm, ArentFox Schiff, to investigate the hazing allegations. Lead investigator Maggie Hickey found that the allegations were “largely supported by evidence” and “widespread” among NU’s football players. However, the investigation didn’t conclude whether Fitzgerald or other coaches knew about the hazing.

NU initially placed Fitzgerald on an unpaid leave of absence. Fitzgerald said that he was “very disappointed” and was “not aware of the alleged incidents.” However, after Fitzgerald’s firing, NU President Michael Schill wrote in an open letter, “The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team.” Fitzgerald told the sports network ESPN that he instructed his lawyer to “take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law.”

The players quoted in The Daily Northwestern‘s article worried that the hazing will continue, since players threaten to retaliate against any whistleblowers and since NU seems reluctant to instate any penalties or institutional changes that demonstrate seriousness regarding NU Athletic’s ostensible “zero tolerance” policy against hazing.

Most incidents of male-on-male sexual harassment are committed by ostensibly straight men who want to intimidate and belittle their peers, Newsweek reported. Longtime queer sports writer Cyd Zeigler wrote that homophobic hazing rituals “reinforce the notion that same-sex affection is weaker” and “serve to satisfy the latent homosexuality of many of the players involved.”

Actual Story on LGBTQ Nation
Author: Daniel Villarreal

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