Former football players at Northwestern University have come forward to accuse the newly fired head coach of not just fostering a racist program but also being an active participant
Northwestern University’s newly fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald not only fostered a racist program but also acted in a decidedly anti-Black capacity, several former players said in the wake of a widening hazing scandal.
The longtime Northwestern head football coach was fired on Monday after the university said an investigation into claims of hazing in the football program was all but substantiated. The termination came days after Fitzgerald was suspended for two weeks. But after former players gave key details on Saturday about the alleged hazing, the university decided to fire Fitzgerald.
The headlines have attributed Fitzgerald’s firing to allegations of hazing of a sexual nature – and his apparent tolerance for it – as detailed by one of his former players in a report published over the weekend in the university’s student-run Daily Northwestern.
“The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team,” university President Michael Schill wrote in an open letter to the Northwestern community. “The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing Coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening. Either way, the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others.”
But missing from the widespread news reports in mainstream media are the accusations that Fitzgerald not only allowed the sexual abuse hazing to run rampant over the course of his 16 years as head football coach, but he also lent similar treatment when it came to racism against his Black and brown players.
On Monday, the Daily Northwestern published the accounts of three former players who claimed they were part of a football program with “a certain culture of enabling racism and other microaggressions.”
Specifically, Fitzgerald is accused of lending preferential treatment to white players and ordering Black players with dreadlocks and other Black hairstyles to change their looks in order to comply with “the Wildcat way,” a reference to the team mascot. A familiar refrain from Fitzgerald was that he wanted the Black players to have “good, clean American fun” in ways that were not imposed on white players, including allowing them to have long hair, the former players said.
One of the former players, two of whom requested anonymity, said that type of treatment should be considered hazing, too.
“The racist stuff… the stuff that refers to how Black players are treated, in my mind, that was a form of hazing,” one anonymous former player told the Daily Northwestern.
The racism didn’t stop there, they claimed.
Ramon Diaz Jr., who is a Latino and played football for Northwestern from 2005 to 2008, told the Daily Northwestern that the racism he experienced was anti-Black and then some.
From the Daily Northwestern:
Both Diaz and the second anonymous player detailed an instance in which a former offensive line coach joked by asking Diaz how to clean a dirty room. The coach then made a racist joke about how Diaz’s family must know how to clean houses, both former players said.
Diaz said he heard the same coach tell a Black teammate to stop wearing certain hats because he “wasn’t in the hood anymore,” before calling the way he walked a “gangster walk.”
He also said he once heard a player tell another Black teammate to show him “how monkeys act.”
“Your Blackness was not allowed to shine through, whether it was how you carried yourself all your way down to your hair,” the first anonymous player said.
The second anonymous player added that he often felt like the team was segregated by race. He said the defensive side of the ball had more Black players, while the offensive side was often majority white. That made it difficult to be an offensive player of color, he said.
“A lot of people ended up transferring, particularly off the offensive side of the ball, because it was a very racially segregated team,” he said.
The full report is damning. Read it here.
Following the reports of racism, a spokesperson for the university suggested those claims would need to be investigated further.
“The alleged ‘racist commentary and behavior toward non-white players’ by Coach Fitzgerald and members of his staff would be entirely unacceptable and inconsistent with our culture and values, if true,” Jon Yates said in an email. “As we do with any allegation, we will immediately address the accusations and any findings will be considered.”
While hazing has been an unfortunate mainstay of college life, the topic of racist football coaches is also not new.
Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican with a history of racism who just on Monday night said a “white nationalist” was simply “an American,” was a college coach for decades at the University of Mississippi and Auburn University. It would be naive to suggest he never expressed as a coach any of the racist sentiments he so proudly espouses in 2023.
In 2020, two Black football players at Liberty University transferred because of alleged “racial insensitivity” and “cultural incompetence” in the program and on campus.
Also in 2020, at the University of Iowa, dozens of Black football players accused strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle of racist bullying.
“There are too many racial disparities in the Iowa football program,” former player James Daniels tweeted at the time. “Black players have been treated unfairly for far too long.” The University of Iowa parted ways with Doyle soon afterward.
That same year, Clemson University head football coach Dabo Swinney was accused by two former players who are Black of using the N-word in a negative reference to rap music being played in the locker room. Notably, Swinney is still Clemson’s head coach.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
This is America.
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