Northwestern football players deny 'disheartening' hazing accusations, defend head coach Pat Fitzgerald

Northwestern University football players released a joint statement Saturday night following allegations that the team conducted hazing involving sexual abuse with head coach Pat Fitzgerald knowing about it.

A report from The Daily Northwestern had a former player detailing allegations of “absolutely egregious and vile and inhumane behavior” that took place within the organization. It ultimately led the university to suspend Fitzgerald for two weeks this past Friday.

However, the “ENTIRE Northwestern Football Team” penned a letter, obtained by ESPN, to push back on the claims in that report.


Northwestern football players celebrate play

Northwestern Wildcats linebacker Bryce Gallagher reacts after making a tackle against the Purdue Boilermakers on Nov. 19, 2022, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Northwestern Football players DO NOT tolerate hazing,” the letter read. “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. We are committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes the well-being and development of every individual on our team.

“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 letter added that Northwestern conducted an “independent third-party” investigation into the matter that took “a rigorous six months” to complete. The investigation included interviews with current and former players as well as coaching staff.


Pat Fitzgerald running off field

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats runs off the field after losing to the Wisconsin Badgers at Ryan Field on Oct. 8, 2022, in Evanston, Illinois. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“Following this thorough examination, outside counsel in collaboration with the University reached its own conclusions, which we trust were based on a fair and unbiased evaluation of the facts,” the letter continued.

Fitzgerald denied knowing about the allegations, though the player that came forward to The Daily Northwestern said he would make a signal during practice that showed he was in on the hazing.

“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 read. “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.

“We urge you to respect the privacy and well-being of the individuals involved, including both the accused and the accusers. Our team remains committed to our Head Coach and upholding the values of Northwestern University and fostering a positive, inclusive, and respectful environment for all.”

The player that came forward detailed how mostly freshman would be “dry-[humped]” by upperclassmen who were dressed in “Purge-like” masks in a practice, which was called “running.” A player would be “ran” if mistakes were made.

The player explained how clapping above the heads of players by other team members indicated that the player must be “ran,” and Fitzgerald was allegedly in on it.

Pat Fitzgerald on sidelines

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats reacts during the Wisconsin Badgers game on Oct. 8, 2022, in Evanston, Illinois. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“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 just a really abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout that program for years on end now.

“Everyone would just be looking at each other and be like, ‘Bro, Fitz knows about this,’ because you wouldn’t take that action otherwise,” the player added. “Everyone joins in because he’s the head coach.”

Other hazing incidents allegedly include stripping naked and performing various acts, including bear crawling. The player said a freshman quarterback was also forced to take a snap from a freshman center while they were both naked.

There is also the “Gatorade shake challenge,” with players forced to consume as many Gatorade shakes as possible in 10 minutes, which would lead many to vomit.


Fitzgerald, who has been a coach at the university since 2006, released a statement saying he was “very disappointed” to hear about the accusations against his program.

Northwestern football prides itself on producing not just athletes, but fine young men with character befitting the program and our university,” he noted. “We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward.”

The university will be requiring all coaches, staff members and athletes to go through anti-hazing training.

Northwestern vs Penn State

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium on Oct. 1, 2022, in State College, Pennsylvania.

Northwestern may be revisiting the two-week suspension of Fitzgerald given the new allegations that have come forth from the student newspaper.

“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,”  Northwestern president Michael Schill wrote in a letter Saturday, per ESPN.


“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.”

Fox News’ Ryan Morik and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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