Jul 12, 2023

Northwestern Fires Football Coach Amid Hazing and Racism Allegations Transcript

Northwestern Fires Football Coach Amid Hazing and Racism Allegations Transcript
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Northwestern University fired longtime head football coach Pat Fitzgerald after an investigation found hazing was widespread on the team. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Northwestern University yesterday fired longtime head football coach Pat Fitzgerald after an investigation found hazing was widespread on the team, including instances of forced sexual acts. The university received an anonymous complaint from a former player last November and launched an independent investigation, run by the former Illinois Inspector General. It found most players participated in or were aware of hazing in the football program. The student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern also reported that several former players alleged there were racist comments and attacks by the coaching staff as well. Fitzgerald has said he was not aware of any hazing. The school has said it was not aware of any allegations of racism previously.

Joining me now is Jon Greenberg. He’s founding editor and senior columnist at The Athletic. Jon, thanks for joining us. After that investigation last week, the university president first suspended the coach, Coach Fitzgerald, two weeks of unpaid suspension, and within days they decided to fire him. Why is that? What changed?

John Greenberg (01:05):

I think part of it was the public outcry about it, and then quickly the next day, The Daily Northwestern School paper there, they had a story with a lot of details from the whistleblower, from a person, an unnamed source, an anonymous player with the university on the football team, who really detailed what the hazing was, because hazing is a pretty general vague term. It could mean anything. It could mean eating something. It could be carrying bags for someone. This was pretty detailed and really damning things that were going on there, and they had it verified by another player, who verified the initial player’s, what he said happened, so that really blew it up. And then you saw more and more stories start to come out from The Daily Northwestern, from ESPN, from The Athletic, just different, more details coming out, and I think it really made for something they couldn’t ignore anymore.

Speaker 1 (01:57):

Jon, the details from the student reporting are really stunning. I just want to share with you a couple of quotes from that former player who came forward. One of them reads, “I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and it’s just absolutely egregious and vile and inhumane behavior.” There’s another quote that reads, “It’s done under this smoke and mirror of, oh, this is team bonding, but no, this is sexual abuse.” Jon, I have to ask you. What did you think when you read these details?

John Greenberg (02:24):

It was pretty shocking stuff, but also if you’ve gone to college in America, you know what I mean, anywhere around here, where there’s hazing in fraternities and sororities and teams, you’ve seen this stuff before. Some people have experienced this stuff. To me, the story read like they were profiling an out of control fraternity on campus, like an old school fraternity that had been doing things the same way for 75 years, 50 years. That’s what it felt like. It didn’t feel like the stuff you would hear from a football team. It just seemed like a lot of really out of control behavior. And even if Pat Fitzgerald said, “Oh, this stuff’s happening in the locker room away from me. I didn’t know about it,” well, that’s almost just as bad, because you’re the person in charge. Pat Fitzgerald has been there as the head coach for 17 years, an assistant coach before that, a team captain before that. For him to say he didn’t know it, that’s pretty egregious lack of leadership.

Speaker 1 (03:21):

There’s also no more reporting from the student paper about these allegations of racism and a racist culture on the football program. Do we know any more about that?

John Greenberg (03:30):

No. And you’ve seen some players, some people, especially guys in the NFL have come out against that saying, “I never experienced that,” and somebody even said, “That’s not to mean it wasn’t true.” Some people have said no, but of course, I believe it, and nothing would surprise me.

Speaker 1 (03:44):

Jon, it’s worth noting too, the Northwestern baseball team has been in the headlines because of allegations by players and staffers of a abusive behavior by their coach, Jim Foster. Is there any sense of growing pressure in terms of accountability higher up? They fired the football coach, but is anyone calling for the president to step down?

John Greenberg (04:02):

Yeah. Well, the interesting part about this is the president was just inaugurated last month. He took over from a longtime president that was very pro the athletic department. He was a booster, almost, in some ways. He just took over, so this is a pretty interesting start to his tenure there. The athletic director is also new, and he took over from an athletic director that was pushed out because of issues that had happened in the athletic department when he was a deputy athletic director, assistant athletic director, a guy named Mike Polisky. He’s pushed out. They had to hire a guy named Derrick Gragg to replace him, so there’s a lot of turnover at the athletic department, but there’s also a lot of problems.

Previously we had heard problems on the cheerleading team. A cheerleader has sued Northwestern for some stuff and we’d heard about other issues. Listen, some of the teams there are great and some of the teams, there’s been no issues. We’ve heard nothing about it, but these problems … This baseball coach is the first hire of the new athletic director, the first big hire. That is not a really good look for him right now that he hired this person. We’ve heard there’s been a trickling out of things, worries about the baseball coach, and the latest reports seem pretty bad.

Speaker 1 (05:16):

Specific to the hazing that the investigation confirmed happened on the football team, what happens now? This is a huge moneymaker for the university. Could it impact support from the school community, from alumni, from sponsors?

John Greenberg (05:30):

Yeah, a hundred percent. It was just reported that the athletic director told the assistant coaches and the staff that no one else is going to be fired, which is interesting, because you don’t know what the other coaches know, but the way it happened is it being this late, with the season starting soon, they’ve got to find either an interim coach, which I would assume is going to happen for this year, probably from someone on the staff already is going to get promoted.

There’s a lot of problems with the alumni because there’s some alumni that are really angry that this happened. And then there’s some alumni that are angry that they fired Pat Fitzgerald, who’s been there for a long time, for a lot of the former players, especially guys in the NFL, who they look at him as a father figure. They’re angry about that. You’re going to have a war, almost, between the alumni, so that’s going to be a big deal. They’re trying to get a new $800 million stadium to replace their old stadium now. They built hundred and hundreds of millions on new facilities there already. It’s a really interesting, I guess is a good word to say, time in Northwestern athletics.

Speaker 1 (06:35):

Certainly a story to keep an eye on. Jon Greenberg, founding editor and senior columnist at The Athletic, Jon, thank you for joining us.

John Greenberg (06:42):

Thanks for having me.

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