Clueless NU finally got it right and did what it had to do — fire Pat Fitzgerald

It seems to this reporter that not only did the football coach have to know what was going on, but he subjectively encouraged it.

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Pat Fitzgerald

Northwestern finally did the right thing and fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald.

Carlos Osorio/AP

The Northwestern campus is gorgeous on this fine summer day.

You almost can understand why it costs $75,000 a year to go here and why the acceptance rate is a rarefied 7%.

In short, Northwestern is the Big Ten’s Ivy League school.

Then there’s the football program.

Pat Fitzgerald, the head coach these last 17 years, was fired at dinnertime Monday. The deed was done by a president, athletic department and PR staff that might as well be from Gooberville, USA.

Ivy League? No, bush league.

The hazing perversity that went on in the football “brotherhood” — and please forget the pathetically arrogant and illogical denial letter from “the ENTIRE team” — finally did in a coach who likely is more suited to be an Armed Forces recruiter than a builder of college men.

The darkened-room “dry-humping” punishment for unlucky underclassmen by older, mask-wearing teammates was supposed to build camaraderie. And to be a laugh riot.

Well, that’s Hazing 101, people, and it’s about as funny and bonding as beating a friend with a stick because he’s your pal.

And there was more, even uglier stuff, sexualized and demeaning, as hazing so often is. Lots of players knew about it, saw it, experienced it and came forward to corroborate it.

That Northwestern tried to slip in the news of Fitzgerald’s initial two-week suspension without pay on a Friday afternoon is classic information suppression. News often vanishes over weekends, is dead and buried by Monday.

Not this time. On Saturday, reporters at the Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper, laid out the hazing details the university either was clueless about or hoped would evaporate like Fitzgerald’s meaningless suspension.

After all, there’s nothing football-related going on these two weeks in July, and losing a couple of hundred grand from an annual paycheck of $5.37 million won’t sting much.

On Monday, however, Northwestern president Michael Schill re-examined evidence he should have had long ago — or maybe just read the Daily Northwestern’s stories — and fired Fitzgerald, who is in the early part of a 10-year, $50 million-plus contract.

Fitzgerald’s defenders say he had no idea the hazing was going on. Said Schill in his statement: “The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program.”

Coaches know. They are paid to know. And they do know.

Said Schill: “The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team.”


It seems to this reporter that not only did Fitzgerald have to know what was going on, but he subjectively encouraged it. For example, at summer practice at Camp Kenosha in Wisconsin, there was the ritual of putting watermelon slices — rind and all — on towels on the field and making freshmen players lie on their stomachs, hands behind backs, and eat the fruit as fast as they could while upperclassmen cheered and screamed. Coaches, too.

Photos of Black players doing this, their heads above the watermelon, hands back, are so inherently racist as to be obscene.

Yes, that’s another thing: Players have come forward to speak about the racist culture they felt Fitzgerald’s reign tolerated and possibly encouraged.

Hazing once might have been winked at. But so was sexual insult, harassment and assault. Then came #MeToo.

Did Fitzgerald learn nothing from the Northwestern women’s soccer team being suspended for hazing in 2006? He started his head-coaching career that very year.

What about the Wheaton College hazing disaster in 2014, in which five football players were charged with crimes and the hazing victim’s attorney was former Northwestern football player Terry Ekl?

How about the Blackhawks’ recent sexual-assault scandal involving suppressed news from a decade before, which cost several front-office people their jobs?

Learned nothing? Hazing and sexual assault haven’t been cool for years, folks.

If this is what they do in the military — and Fitz loved the jarhead look, the Army allusions, the SEAL training, the camouflage, etc. — then join a military branch and go for it.

I guess the bottom line is that this scandal was bound to happen. The fuse was lit long ago.

Above all, kudos to college journalism. God bless the Daily Northwestern.

I met with J.A. Adande, an associate professor and the director of sports journalism at NU, on this gorgeous summer day. He said he teaches that the meaning of journalism is “to tell true stories that otherwise would not be told.” He added, proudly: “The work of these student journalists exemplifies that.”

At least you got that right, Northwestern.

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