EVANSTON, Pain (WLS) — Northwestern Wildcats football coach Pat Fitzgerald has been fired.
Northwestern President Michael Schil issued a statement Monday afternoon, saying, “This afternoon, I notified Head Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald that he will be relieved of his duties immediately.”
Schil previously said he may have made a mistake in the sentence handed down to Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was suspended for two weeks without pay, as disturbing allegations continued to surface about hazing within the football program. He released a statement to ESPN on Monday night:
The former and current Northwestern football player have spoken out after the hazing allegations, sharing their own stories.
READ MORE: Former Northwestern player says coach Pat Fitzgerald ‘failed' by not stopping hazing
Schell said during the investigation, 11 current or former Wildcat football players acknowledged hazing had taken place, and even more former players confirmed “the hazing was systemic dating back many years.”
According to Schhill, the hazing included “forced participation, nudity, and degrading sexual acts” which were clear violations of school policy. The president said that to his knowledge no students were physically injured as a result of the hazing.
The hazing was known to many people in the program, Schil said, though he allowed no “credible evidence” that Fitzgerald himself knew.
“The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team. The hazing we investigate is widespread and definitely not a secret within the program, giving Coach Fitzgerald the opportunity to learn about what's going on. Either way, the culture at Northwestern Football, while extraordinary in some ways, damaged in other ways,” Schhill wrote in his message to the Northwestern community.
Future team leadership announcements are coming soon, says Schhill.
ABC7 spoke with former Wildcat Ramon, who asked that his last name not be shared. Ramon was 18 when he first arrived at college, and playing for Northwestern football was a dream come true.
“I'm so excited to be playing the game I love, the joy of playing in the Top 10 for a prestigious university,” he said.
But, he says that dream quickly turned sour. As the only Latino on the football team at the time, Ramon said he was subjected to abuse by both players and coaches.
“They shaved ‘Cinco de Mayo' on the back of my head, and then there was this particular incident. My position coach said, ‘Hey, I know you grew up on a dirt floor, but you need to clean up around you in here,'” recalls Ramon.
She said the abuse was in public, usually within the positional group she was coaching.
“It was always under the guise of a joke or a team bond. I never felt okay being Latino,” he says.
But, his claims are just the tip of the iceberg. Similar to the accusations in the Daily Northwestern, he claimed there was a ritual called a “car wash” where players would stand naked at the bathroom entrance, forcing others to walk through it.
“A car makes your genitals rub against other people's genitals,” says Ramon. “And, I never felt like anyone could leave the bathroom while it was happening. No one told us we were forced to sit there, but we weren't allowed past the car wash either.”
Over the weekend, the university's student-run newspaper carried an interview with a former player, detailing the practice of sexual hazing he said routinely took place in the locker room. One common practice, called “running”, involves a younger player being restrained while eight to 10 older players engage in sexual acts in the locker room. The “running” version takes place during certain parts of the year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“It was a shocking experience as a freshman to see your freshman teammates running, but then you see everyone standing in the locker room,” the former player told The Daily Northwestern. “It's just a really gross and barbaric culture that has permeated that whole program for years now.”
According to the paper, the former player reported his claims to the school in late 2022, and he spoke to investigators during the university's commissioned investigation, whose findings were released on Friday.
In a letter sent to ESPN claiming to be signed by the entire Northwestern football team, the players called the accusations “exaggerated and twisted” also adding that “Northwestern football players do not tolerate hazing.”
“Hazing goes against the values of respect, integrity and personal growth. It is sad to see that the allegations brought against our team have been exaggerated and twisted into lies. These fabrications were fabricated with the intent of damaging our program and tarnishing the reputation of players and coaching staff we are dedicated,” the letter said. “We categorically deny the validity of these allegations and are united in our statement that they do not reflect the true character of our team.”
Ryan Field, the proud home of the Northwestern Wildcats, has suddenly put some old ticket holders to shame.
“I don't care if they win, lose. I've always felt like this is how college athletics should be run, and we're developing great people here,” said Art Mollenhauer, a former season ticket holder.
Willy Steiner lives in Evanston.
“His reputation was tarnished,” Steiner said of Fitzgerald. “I don't know how you recover from this, which is a shame, because he is a good football coach.”
“Reform needs to happen from the bottom up,” said Ramon. “If you remove Pat, you're just putting other people in there off the program and you're not uprooting systemic problems that are hurting and destroying people's lives.”
There were also allegations of “bullying and abusive” behavior by the Northwestern baseball team's head coach. A spokesperson for the Northwestern Department of Athletics issued a statement, saying, “Our department's annual review of all aspects of the Wildcats baseball program is ongoing. The well-being of our student-athletes remains Northwestern's top priority.”
ESPN contributed to this report.