NU Director of Athletics Derrick Gragg.

Northwestern University Athletics Director Derrick Gragg is blasting some members of the football staff for wearing “inappropriate, offensive, and tone-deaf” T-shirts at practice on Wednesday.

In the midst of a hazing scandal which cost head coach Pat Fitzgerald his job, and has seen 13 former players sue the university over alleged abuse, the shirts said, “Cats Against the World,” and included Fitzgerald’s number 51 from his days as a Wildcats linebacker.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Gragg said he was “extremely disappointed that a few members of our football program staff” wore the shirts, which neither he nor the University were aware “that they owned or would wear ….”

No staff names were released, nor were any numbers given on how many coaches and other staffers wore the shirts.

In a morning posting on “X” (formerly Twitter), Bradley Locker, of Inside NU, put out a picture of the shirt being worn by one individual, and said “Several Northwestern coaches/staffers, including OC [offensive coordinator] Mike Bajakian, are donning” the shirts in question.

Three current Northwestern players addressed the media following practice. Those players did not specifically address the hazing allegations, but said the shirts, in the words of receiver Bryce Kirtz, were “really just a reminder to allow us to stick together.”

Interim head coach David Braun said “My purpose … is gonna be solely based on supporting these young men” and “making sure this fall is an incredible experience for them.”

As for the t-shirts, the Associated Press reported Braun saying “It certainly isn’t my business to censor anybody’s free speech.”

Braun, who was originally hired in January as defensive coordinator, and was not on staff for the period of alleged hazing, also said that “hazing certainly has no (place)” in any program.

Gragg also said that “hazing has no place at Northwestern,” and NU is “committed to do whatever is necessary to address hazing-related matters, including thoroughly investigating any incidents or allegations of hazing or any other misconduct.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  1. What prompted Mr. Gragg to issue a statement?

    The obvious explanation is that some players and staff want to show support for their former head coach was fired. Gragg’s reference to the hazing scandal insinuates that taking issue with Fitzgerald’s terms of separation from NU implies acceptability for hazing. I would like to know if he thinks that. If not, then why did he cite hazing in the statement which he had prepared?

  2. Northwestern should fire its entire football staff as well as the President and AD and replace their Board of Trustees.

    That anyone thought it appropriate to wear shirts supportive of Pat Fitzgerald the first day of practice is stunning. That the new head coach called it “free speech” is ignorant and offensive. This school is a mess.

    Reportedly, Fitzgerald led a team where sexual assault, physical assault and racism were rampant. Their arrogance and the lack of fundamental decency exhibited by NU leaders at every level should be unacceptable to students, faculty, alumni, donors and all their communities.

    1. 100% correct VVM. The arrogance and lack of remorse and learning on the part of these coaches and players is shocking. The idea that this is a free speech issues is ridiculous. The AD should be fired too. The culture is so sick at NU. The cheerleader scandal should have raised a million red flags and resulted in a lot more firings than it did.

    2. Honestly don’t agree here. In our country free speech is everything even if some feel the speech is “ignorant and offensive”. I don’t agree with VVM’s position here so I suppose I would call it “ignorant”. Does that mean VVM shouldn’t be allowed to say it? I sure hope not.

      1. Free speech does not exist at a private non-profit (which NU is, at least on paper) in the same way it does in public… like say in the comments section of a local paper. Wearing an article of clothing, or making a verbal statement, in the act of you job is not protected by free speech.

        I believe VVM’s point is this is a situation that is self created by NU. First by allowing these abuse to go on for so long right under their noses (looking the other way?) and then when they were finally forced to acknowledge the situation, by not entirely clearing house of those that were a part of and would evenexcuse the past behaviors.

        I don’t know where the accountability begins and ends between the program(s) direct leaders, athletic department leadership, and university leadership…. But it’s all pretty sickening IMO. There seems to be much seriously askew with the amoral and self serving folks leading NU. They are driving NU to record profits while turning a blind eye to social and ethical responsibilities. Or even worse, they appear to be they willfully and repeatedly covering up such bad behavior.

  3. I hear you, Peter. As a classical liberal there are few things as important to me as free speech. As a NU grad I remember participating at a sit-in at the Bursar’s office supporting free speech. Our liberal campus was obsessed with the issue. Now we have University folk telling students what t-shirts they can wear in an attempt to censor their right to free expression of their opinions. It’s outrageous. Of course the hazing was horrific. But until there is a clear indication that Fitzgerald was fully aware of those practices, I applaud and support these students for expressing their support for their former coach.

    1. The article very clearly describes this about staff and not students. When talking about staff, who are NU employees, they are not subject to free speech protections clearly intended to apply to the public and public agencies.

      Unless we know this is about student athletes (who may or may not be counted as employers these days with the fubar ncaa situation) please stop conflating this as a free speech issue. Next thing you know you’ll be defending the events of Jan 6th as a free speech issue!

  4. Good for the players and staff to support the former Coach. I do not think for one minute that hazing should be accepted, however let’s look at the facts, rather than call the hazing rampant. He has coached a roster of nearly 80 players/ year over 16 years, and there are a handful of former players that have expressed a worry about hazing. This does not come across as rampant. Northwestern University hires an independent law firm to investigate the program for hazing. The investigation concluded that the head coach was unaware of the hazing that had taken place. President Schill imposes a 2 week suspension which is released on a Friday afternoon, to help keep this story out of the headlines. A handful of disgruntled, and maybe rightfully so, former players voice their concerns, and within 72 hours Coach Fitzgerald is fired for cause.

    By many accounts, Coach Fitzgerald is a hero to many in and associated with University. I would imagine that every assistant coach and player was chosen by him to come to Northwestern. I would imagine that the coaches and players know him much more intimately than the press and the people commenting here. He truly seemed to be a well liked and well respected leader. I would have to believe that they were all shocked and dismayed by him being fired. So yes, I can very much appreciate the coaching staff and players wanting to stick up for him. I would further imagine that the young men on the football team would never think that their locker room antics would lead to the coach being released of his duties.

    The greater tragedy here is that the Athletic Director, Dr Gragg remains employed by Northwestern. If Coach Fitzgerald was supposed to be omnipresent and watch over all activities of his team, then Dr. Gragg too should be held to this standard. However, he did not have the necessary policies and procedures in place to protect our great University from this embarrassment. In fact, not only is the football team having issues, but Baseball, Volleyball, and Softball are as well.

    Dr. Gragg is too concerned with self preservation and his personal agendas to do his job properly. This leads to President Schill also failing at his duties in leading Northwestern to greatness, but rather caving in to his own self preservation. He had an amazing opportunity to lead and create protocols for the athletics programs. Northwestern University could have been a national leader for standards in NCAA Division 1 sports. The way that President Schill and Dr Gragg have led us at this time is truly an embarrassment.

    Go Cats!

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