What Northwestern’s firing of Pat Fitzgerald is not about

Many of the questions and criticisms aimed at the hazing investigation miss the point.

SHARE What Northwestern’s firing of Pat Fitzgerald is not about
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald looking on during a game against Ohio State in Evanston last season.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald during a game against Ohio State in Evanston last season

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Let’s discuss what the Pat Fitzgerald firing is not about.

It’s not about a rush to judgment. Northwestern’s investigation into a former player’s allegations of hazing in the football program lasted six months. If that’s a rush, then so is a six-month CD or a six-month prison sentence. The attorney who led NU’s investigation interviewed more than 50 people currently or formerly associated with the program and reviewed hundreds of thousands of emails dating back 10 years.

It’s not about one disgruntled former player. Northwestern said 11 current or former players acknowledged during the probe that there had been hazing.

It’s not about everything that’s wrong with the world these days. It’s about today’s reality. Anyone who works in sports in 2023 knows that hazing is a major no-no, just as anyone who works in corporate America knows that harassment of any kind is taboo. We can argue all day about whether things have gone too far in terms of sensibilities, but it’s beside the point. There’s no place for hazing.

It’s not about whether Fitzgerald knew that upperclassmen were dry-humping freshmen in a dark locker room as punishment for making mistakes on the field. In today’s world, a head coach is supposed to know. Fitzgerald was paid a ton of money to know. That’s it. End of story. But, just as an aside, we’re supposed to believe that a micromanaging college football coach — which is to say every college football coach on the planet — didn’t know what was going on in the locker room? Please.

It’s not about Fitzgerald being a good guy. Good guys do dumb things.

It’s not about a bumbling university president changing his mind on Fitzgerald’s punishment. Just because Michael Schill initially gave the coach a two-week suspension and then fired him a few days later under public pressure doesn’t mean the firing was unjust. It means Schill wasn’t thinking straight or received bad advice with his first ruling. It means university presidents do dumb things, too.

It’s not about the firing being too harsh. I can’t stress this enough: No parent sends their athlete to college to get physically and mentally abused by older players. Universities have been on an anti-hazing push for years, and a coach would have to have his head, and the rest of his body, buried in a sand dune not to know the seriousness of it. Hazing is a fireable offense for a coach.

It’s not about boys being boys. What happened at NU was “Lord of the Flies’’ stuff, and kids suffered for it. By the way, what well-adjusted upperclassman enjoys playing the role of dry-humper? What part of that equation am I missing here?

It’s not about how life was when you or I played sports. Nobody cares. Things change. A lack of emotional scar tissue from your glory days doesn’t mean scar tissue doesn’t exist for others. If you don’t think hazing is wrong and a very, very bad thing for a coach’s future, then you haven’t been paying attention. An update for you: Bullying, also bad.

It’s not about being innocent until proven guilty. See the earlier note on a rush to judgment.

It’s not about the Duke lacrosse scandal. Some of Fitzgerald’s defenders have tried to compare his case to that of three Duke athletes who were wrongly accused of raping a stripper in 2006. The Durham County district attorney was eventually disbarred for his rash and shoddy work on the case. A wrong that happened 17 years ago doesn’t mean a wrong happened in the Northwestern hazing investigation.

It’s not about Fitzgerald’s recent hiring of an attorney. That act doesn’t prove he’s a victim, though he might believe he is. It certainly means he wants what’s left on his 10-year, $57 million contract.

It’s not about the evils of the transfer portal. I didn’t know that transfers were morally inferior human beings, but if any of the whistleblowers arrived at Northwestern via the portal, it needs to be noted that Fitzgerald researched and recruited them, too.

This is about an investigation that found significant proof that hazing had been going on in NU’s football program for years. And this is about the harsh ramifications of that truth, in today’s world, for a football coach. Nothing else matters.

You can scream all you want that Pat Fitzgerald didn’t do anything wrong. The problem is that he didn’t do the one right thing that was necessary.

The Latest
The tension around taking on debt and the pension payment was the crux of a month-long delay of the school system’s budget proposal, which came out Wednesday.
Jakyla Hester, 21, of Chicago, is also charged with reckless homicide, Illinois state police said.
Starting this weekend, the elaborate speaker trellis at the Pritzker Pavilion will pipe an inventive sound installation created by artists from around the world.
Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer dismissed the case with prejudice based on the misconduct of police and prosecutors over the withholding of evidence from the defense.
“The governance model is not the problem here,” CTA President Dorval Carter defiantly told an Illinois Senate committee. The problem, he said, is funding.