Two former Northwestern University football players told reporters Friday that Black players were subject to discriminatory treatment during the early days of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure at the school — before he became head coach.
Noah Herron, who played for NU from 2000 to 2004, said coaches tried to make Black players conform to white appearance standards — what he said they called “The Wildcat Way.”
“They failed to see and accept me as a man, a Black man,” Herron said.
He said that while white players were allowed to grow their hair long, so it stuck out from under their helmets, Black players were told they had to cut their braided hair, even though it did not affect their performance on the field.
Rico Lamitte, who played under the name Rico Carver from 2001 to 2005, said he still loves the NU Wildcat family, but that he, “like too many young black athletes, experienced racism from the coaches and the program.”
“For far too long, and even today,” Lamitte said, “Black athletes have been encouraged to conform to white culture.”
“Black culture,” he added, “has sadly, wrongly been perceived as scary, and looked down upon.”
Lamitte said black players were “teased, humiliated, threatened and hazed” when they “resisted conforming to the Wildcat way.”
Fitzgerald, who had played for Northwestern in the mid 1990s, joined the coaching staff as an assistant, coaching defensive backs, in 2001 and was named head coach before the 2006 season after the death from an apparent heart attack of head coach Randy Walker.
Fitzgerald, fired by the university in July following reports by former players of hazing on the team, has now sued the school for $130 million in damages over his dismissal.
Attorney Patrick Salvi Jr, who represents seven of the more than 20 players who have sued the school over their alleged mistreatment, noted that claims from older former players like Herron and Lamitte may be barred by the statute of limitations.
Neither of them have filed suit.
But Salvi urged other players to come forward with their complaints and said Northwestern “needs to be held accountable” for abuses in the football program and on other sports teams.
He noted that Michigan State University a few years ago paid $500 million to settle a case involving a school physician who sexually abused female students at the school.
Northwestern has hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to conduct an independent investigation into its athletics programs.