Northwestern is taking several measures to curb harassment within its football program, including a two-week suspension of coach Pat Fitzgerald after an investigation uncovered evidence supporting allegations of problematic behavior.
Fitzgerald, the Wildcats’ coach since 2006, will begin his unpaid suspension on Friday. Northwestern is not expected to begin pre-season training until early August.
Other measures include no further off-campus drills in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the team has held pre-season training for years, and having the football locker room monitored by someone who doesn’t report to Fitzgerald or his staff.
The university-commissioned investigation, launched in January, found that a claim made by an anonymous whistleblower was confirmed, even though the players’ accounts differed and there was insufficient evidence that the coaches knew about the behaviour. According to a synopsis, the bullying incidents happened in the team’s locker room and may have started at “Camp Kenosha,” where Northwestern had spent about a week of preseason through 2020.
“The investigation found no evidence pointing to any specific wrongdoing by any individual football player or coach. Involvement in, or knowledge of, the harassment activities was widespread among all football players,” the summary said.
Attorney Maggie Hickey of the law firm ArentFox Schiff LLP led the investigation, which involved more than 50 people who were or were previously involved with the program. The person who made the allegations spoke to investigators in December.
“Verbal abuse 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,” University President Michael Schill said in a statement. “Our athletic programs are held to the highest standards and in this case we failed to meet them. I assume that today’s measures will prevent something like this from ever happening again.”
Northwestern has created an online tool for reporting suspected hazing activity and requires all coaches, players and staff to complete anti-hazing training with a focus on reporting claims.