Northwestern community, Evanston residents react to firing of football coach Pat Fitzgerald amid hazing allegations

As news of Pat Fitzgerald’s firing sweeps campus, students question what will happen next and how the larger conversation about hazing in college sports might shift.

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Former Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald is named in the third lawsuit alleging the school fostered a culture of hazing and abuse on its football team.

Northwestern University students interviewed Tuesday generally supported the firing of football head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

AP file

Northwestern University students on Tuesday generally agreed with the firing of football coach Pat Fitzgerald amid hazing allegations that continue to rock the football team and campus community.

Fitzgerald was initially suspended for two weeks without pay by university President Michael Schill. After the Daily Northwestern student newspaper reported details of the alleged hazing, Schill said he ‘‘may have erred’’ with the punishment and went on to fire Fitzgerald.

Students, meanwhile, are wondering what will happen next, how the football program and culture may be redefined and how the larger conversation surrounding hazing in college athletics might shift.

Malik Rice, 19, from Atlanta, is a rising Northwestern sophomore, studying political science and law. He believes there’s always been a culture of hazing in college athletics, notably football, so he was not too surprised by the allegations.

Malik Rice smiles at the camera in a headshot in front of a brick column

Malik Rice, 19, said there is a culture of hazing in college athletics and wasn’t surprised by the new allegations.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

Alongside the hazing allegations and Fitzgerald’s firing, the Daily Northwestern on Monday published a story about three former Northwestern football players’ experiences navigating a “culture of enabling racism.” The three players, who attended the school in the late-2000s, also confirmed some of the hazing activities.

Rice said that as a Black student at a predominantly white institution, he was not surprised to hear football players experienced racism.

“I hope all those Black and non-white football players live life and get better,” Rice said. “I hope they get the healing they need.”

Ethan McAlpin, 21, a rising senior from Houston, was surprised Fitzgerald was fired after the initial announcement of a two-week suspension.

“I think there’s a history of, ‘Oh, we’ll look into it,’ and then a committee is formed and then nothing happens,” said McAlpin, who studies computer science. “There’s been a couple allegations of sexual assault with a lot of the frats that I feel like the school kind of ignored or kind of pushed under the rug or not really taken direct action.”

A headshot of Ethan McAlpin wearing a black shirt and necklaces. Their hands are folded in front of them.

Ethan McAlpin, 21, said they were surprised that Pat Fitzgerald was fired.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

McAlpin said firing Fitzgerald was the right move.

“I hope justice is actually sought after because I don’t think that that’s necessarily functionally what’s been done so far,” McAlpin said.

John Chen, 21, a rising senior who studies biomedical engineering, was disappointed to initially hear that Fitzgerald faced a two-week suspension. Chen said he feels hazing activities come from the “top-down,” and the university firing Fitzgerald was a step in the right direction.

“Start up top, and that’s where the solution starts,” Chen said.

A headshot of John Chen wearing glasses and a light pink shirt.

John Chen, 21, views hazing as a “top-down” issue.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

Evanston resident Gregory Off, 82, similarly said Fitzgerald should have been aware of the alleged hazing on the football team. Off believes that Fitzgerald’s firing was justified.

It’s his “job to be checking the locker rooms and know what’s going on,” Off said. “He’s paid a huge salary.”

Elijah Huang, 21, a rising senior who also studies biomedical engineering, said the university’s decision to fire Fitzgerald after announcing his suspension was “reactionary.” Had it not been for the Daily Northwestern’s reporting, Fitzgerald probably would have continued coaching, Huang said.

“It’s a little unfortunate that administrations — just in general, not just Northwestern — are very reactionary,” Huang said. “So if there’s no response, then nothing will change.”

A headshot of Elijah Huang smiling. He wears circular glasses and a black shirt.

Elijah Huang, 21, thinks the university’s decision to fire Pat Fitzgerald was “reactionary.”

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

Evanston resident Norman Weston, 75, agreed that the allegations detailed in the student newspaper played a big role in Fitzgerald’s termination.

“The fact that the story came out of the student newspaper was really revealing,” Weston said. “It shows the power of the student voice.”

Dami Akanni, 20, a rising junior from Lagos, Nigeria, was shocked to hear of the magnitude of the hazing allegations. A larger culture and mindset shift among football players is needed for tangible change and an end to hazing, Akanni said.

“I think now that you see that no one’s safe — even the coach now — [the players] see that consequences will be taken for actions. I think that’s the first step,” Akanni said.

A headshot of Dami ​​Akanni smiling. He wears a long sleeve gray shirt.

Dami Akanni, 20, was shocked to hear of the magnitude of the hazing allegations.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

Maddie Kerr, 21, a rising senior studying sociology, said they recall taking an online hazing prevention course as a freshman. Kerr was aware that hazing happened, but they were shocked to hear details of what players alleged they had gone through.

A headshot of Maddie Kerr smiling at the camera. They wear glasses and a white shirt with a rainbow design.

Maddie Kerr, 21, wonders about the mental health of the football players following the hazing allegations.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

“The mental damage of having to go through those things, even if you were just witnessing it, I can’t even imagine experiencing it firsthand,” Kerr said. “That’s just so horribly traumatic.”

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, a political science professor, was similarly concerned with the mental health of the players. As a professor, she said the hazing allegations were jarring and she does not wish for her students to be traumatized.

“I had a student on the football team in my class and he was a lovely young man,” Hurd said. “When I think about him going through those hazing rituals, I shudder.”

A headshot of Abbie Farley smiling at the camera. She has blue hair and wears a pink shirt.

Abbie Farley, 20, a rising junior, said she would like to see more investigations into other Northwestern sports teams.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

Abbie Farley, a rising junior who has been in the Northwestern marching band since her freshman year, said she was aware of the allegations involving the baseball and football teams. The reports coming from different university sports teams warrant investigation, she said. Farley, who studies psychology and cognitive science, said she would like to see more accountability overall throughout key university activities and organizations.

“Northwestern is only one of how many D1 schools?” Farley said. “I can almost guarantee that we’re not the only ones that are having this problem. I would hope that other people, other schools feel empowered to speak up and help advocate for change and feel comfortable to do so.”

Northwestern is handling the scandals as it continues to push for a new stadium that many Evanston residents are oppose on the site of Ryan Field.

David DeCarlo, 37, an Evanston resident, said the hazing allegations highlight how the university failed in its mission to protect students. Given the scope of the allegations, the university needs to “take a pause” on proposals for Ryan Field, said DeCarlo, the president of the Most Livable City Association, a nonprofit that opposes the stadium proposal.

“How can the university be trusted when it’s failed in a fundamental way, with something related to all these promises it’s making to the broader [Evanston] community?” said DeCarlo, who lives near Ryan Field.

In an open letter to Schill, athletic director Derrick Gragg and Peter Barris, the chair of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees, Hurd and five other tenured Northwestern professors said the university needed to hold off on the Ryan Field proposals.

“Disturbing evidence of harassment and abuse — and high-level efforts to minimize those problems — suggest that we need to get the existing house in order before expanding it,” the letter said.

Hurd said that since sending the open letter on Sunday, prior to the announcement of Fitzgerald’s termination, university officials have not responded.

Though the campus community and some Evanston residents seem to support the university’s decision to fire Fitzgerald, others question whether the university did its due diligence.

Aaron Tyler, 66, said Fitzgerald has been with Northwestern for a long time and seemed to be loved by players. Tyler, who lives in Park Ridge, said the university rushed to fire Fitzgerald without much investigation.

“I think they just wanted the matter to go away,” Tyler said.

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