EVANSTON, Ill. — A former Northwestern football player on Saturday detailed several hazing incidents within the program to The Daily Northwestern, with some involving sexualized acts led by upperclassmen to punish younger players for making mistakes in practices and games.
The former player, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Daily Northwestern that sexualized hazing activities took place in the team’s locker room. One common practice, called “running,” involved a younger player being restrained while eight to 10 older players engaged in a sexualized act in the locker room. Versions of “running” took place during certain portions of the year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“It’s a shocking experience as a freshman to see your fellow freshman teammates get ran, but then you see everybody bystanding in the locker room,” the former player told The Daily Northwestern. “It’s just a really abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout that program for years on end now.”
According to the newspaper, the former player reported his claims to the school in late 2022, and he spoke to investigators during a six-month, university-commissioned probe whose findings were released Friday.
Northwestern cited an “anonymous whistleblower” in its executive report of the investigation.
The school said the hazing claims could be “largely supported” and that “there had been significant opportunities to discover and report” what had happened, but investigators did not find enough evidence to prove coaches knew about the activities. Investigators also received varied perspectives on the conduct following interviews with current and former players.
The Northwestern football team released a statement to an ESPN reporter about the allegations, calling them “exaggerated” and “twisted.”
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was suspended Friday for two weeks without pay, one of several actions implemented in Northwestern’s response. Other measures included no more preseason practices off campus in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where some of the alleged hazing occurred, and a new football locker room monitor who will not report to Fitzgerald or his staff.
Northwestern on Saturday said in a statement to ESPN that it will not comment about the investigation beyond what it released Friday. Sources with direct knowledge told ESPN that investigators were already aware of the allegations outlined by the former player.
“Our first priority is to support and protect our students, including the young man who brought these matters to our attention and all student-athletes who had the courage to come forward in this independent investigation,” Northwestern said in Saturday’s statement. “That is why the university immediately opened this investigation upon learning of the allegations and why we took decisive action once we ascertained the facts.”
In a statement sent to ESPN from the Northwestern football team Saturday night, the players denounced hazing, while pronouncing their support for Fitzgerald and his “unwavering commitment to our team.”
“We want to reiterate that as representatives of the Northwestern Football program, we do not tolerate hazing in any form,” the statement read. “Hazing goes against our values of respect, integrity, and personal growth. We are committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes the well-being and development of every individual on our team.”
The statement also labeled the allegations as “exaggerated and twisted.”
“It is disheartening to see that the allegations brought forth against our team have been exaggerated and twisted into lies. These fabrications have been made with the intention of harming our program and tarnish the reputation of our dedicated players and coaching staff,” the statement added. “We firmly deny the validity of these accusations and stand united in our assertion that they do not reflect the true character of our team.”
Fitzgerald, a decorated alum who has coached Northwestern since 2006, said in a statement Friday that he was very disappointed to hear about the hazing allegations and had no prior knowledge of the incidents.
“Northwestern football prides itself on producing not just athletes, but fine young men with character befitting the program and our university,” Fitzgerald said in his statement. “We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward.
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