In a scathing letter, 86 former Northwestern University athletes accuse Northwestern University President Michael Schill and Athletics Director Derrick Gragg of showing “a clear failure of unbiased and principled leadership” in the dismissal of former head football coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was let go last month in the wake of a hazing scandal, after 17 seasons as head coach. Fitzgerald had also been a star linebacker for the Wildcats as an undergraduate.
The letter, ESPN reported, says that “by willfully ignoring due process, Northwestern University’s administration has left a welcome mat out for the weaponization of sexual assault, hazing and racism accusations to run rampant” at NU.
Schill originally gave Fitzgerald a two-week suspension, following an internal investigation of hazing allegations. An executive summary of that investigation was released, but not the report itself.
However, after the student newspaper The Daily Northwestern published specific hazing allegations, Fitzgerald was fired.
The former athletes, some of whom were teammates of Fitzgerald, said Schill overreacted to social media postings, and “abandoned foundational legal ethics” in letting the legendary coach go.
The letter, also seen by Crain’s Chicago Business, says that under such a scenario, “Any allegation, true or not, will be allowed to cancel anyone’s career and destroy their reputation depending upon popular opinion, while simultaneously allowing the censorship of free speech.
“The collective gains of Northwestern’s Athletic Department over the last three decades, along with Pat Fitzgerald’s legacy and character, have almost been wiped out without any proof of guilt or, much less, even a thorough and proper investigation.”
The ex-athletes also accuse Gragg of “foster[ing] an environment of uncertainty, distrust, and censorship.”
This latest letter is different than the one signed last week by more than 1,000 former Wildcat athletes. That first letter said the positives of NU’s sports culture should not be negated by the misdeeds of a few, but did not specifically criticize Schill or Gragg.
The new letter, ESPN notes, opposes NU’s hiring of former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to look into the culture and practices of NU athletics, because of “political controversies surrounding her history and reputation.”
Ironically, both those blasting the Fitzgerald dismissal and those who have sued NU and the former coach are both calling for one thing in common — release of NU’s original internal investigation into hazing allegations.
Each side apparently believes that the report will provide ammunition for their own points of view.
Acording to ESPN, those signing the new letter say Schill and Gragg should be fired unless they release the full report and “positively support our athletic programs with due process.”
The hazing scandal has seen more than a dozen former Wildcat football players suing Northwestern, Fitzgerald, and other currrent and former NU officials.
Fitzgerald has said he was not aware of the hazing.
Besides the former football player lawsuits, Northwestern has also been sued by ex-athletes or staff members in volleyball, lacrosse, and baseball.