Reporters from the Daily Northwestern, a student-run newspaper that covers all things Northwestern University, are being credited with uncovering details that led to the firing of Pat Fitzgerald as the school's football coach.
On Saturday, four of its writers — Nicole Markus, Alyce Brown, Cole Reynolds and Divya Bhardwaj — published an interview with two former football players who recalled the hazing activities that took place under Fitzgerald's watch, even if the now former head coach wasn't present. The hazing involved the restraining of players, forced nudity and sexualized acts. The report itself goes into great detail on what punishments were meted out for mistakes in practice, but it was the players' belief that Fitzgerald knew about them that may have sealed his fate.
According to the former player, team members allegedly identified players for “running” by clapping their hands above their heads around that player. The practice, the player said, was known within the team as “the Shrek clap.”
The Daily obtained a video of a player clapping his hands during a game, which the anonymous player said was the same motion taken to signify “running.”
According to the player who spoke with The Daily, Fitzgerald repeatedly made the signal during practices when players, specifically freshmen, made a mistake.
The player believes some players interpreted Fitzgerald making these signals as knowingly “encouraging” the hazing to continue.
“Everyone would just be looking at each other and be like, ‘Bro, Fitz knows about this,’ because you wouldn’t take that action otherwise,” the player said. “Everyone joins in, because he’s the head coach.”
Markus, Brown and Reynolds filed a separate report on Monday with three former players who were on the team in the 2000s alleging that the football program fostered a racist environment. (The players also corroborated the initial report on hazing.) According to two of the players, who remained anonymous, Fitzgerald would ask Black coaches and players to change their hairstyles to align with the so-called "Wildcat Way" or risk losing their scholarships, yet he wouldn't demand the same of white players. A third, former offensive lineman Ramon Diaz Jr., detailed some of the offensive marks made toward him about his Latino heritage as well as those against Black players.
The school hired investigators to look into the conduct of both Fitzgerald and the program overall but chose not to release specific details when initially suspending Fitzgerald without pay on Friday. Not long after the Daily's report over the weekend, school president Michael Schill admitted that he "erred" when it came to disciplining Fitzgerald. When announcing Fitzgerald's dismissal, Schill did confirm that 11 players acknowledged that hazing took place but chose not to specify what happened.
Whether the school or anyone else involved with the investigation dismissed the efforts of the Daily prior to the initial suspension will be details that come to light in time. While these journalists were pushing to bring truth to power, it appears that they were also doing what some of the leaders of the program and school were not doing: looking out for their fellow students on campus. As many other college sports scandals in the past have shown, the firing of a coach is often just the start of the scandal. The fallout may have only just begun.