Home News Letter: Group of former Northwestern athletes say Fitzgerald’s firing lacked due process

Letter: Group of former Northwestern athletes say Fitzgerald’s firing lacked due process

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Letter: Group of former Northwestern athletes say Fitzgerald’s firing lacked due process

EVANSTON, Ill. — For the second time in less than a week, a group of former Northwestern athletes has put their thoughts about the recent controversies concerning the athletic program in writing.

This time, it’s focused on two key leaders of the university.

In a letter obtained by WGN News, over 80 former Wildcats’ student-athletes expressed their displeasure with the way that head football coach Pat Fitzgerald, believing the decision lacked due process.

The longtime coach of the program was fired on July 10 when more serious allegations of hazing surfaced after the completion of an investigation into whistleblower claims by former Illinois inspector general Maggie Hickey.

Initially, Fitzgerald was suspended for two weeks without pay in July by President Michael Schill, but was fired four days later when more revelations surfaced.

“We write to express our deep dismay concerning President Michael Schill and Vice President of Athletics Derrick Gragg’s decisions and rhetoric regarding the recent hazing and racism allegations, which are out of line with due process and demonstrate a clear failure of unbiased and principled leadership by Northwestern University’s administration and its Athletic Program,” said the athletes in the letter. “President Michael Schill’s unilateral decision to fire Coach Pat Fitzgerald abandoned foundational legal ethics and unilaterally ignored the University’s own thorough and neutral investigatory processes.

“Influenced by social media, President Schill’s actions have resulted in “guilty until proven innocent” indictments and character assassinations of the University, the University’s athletic department, as well as, former administrators, and former and current student-athletes and coaches.”

This most recent correspondence, whose contents were first revealed by ESPN, comes just a few days after a thousand former athletes wrote a letter defending the culture of Northwestern’s athletic programs.

While these athletes expressed “deep concern over the possibility that any student
the athlete has been harmed by sexual harassment, hazing, or racism while at Northwestern University,” they called for all allegations to be properly investigated, with no assumed guilt touted by the school’s administration.

They are also against the investigation currently being conducted by Loretta Lynch into the athletic program, saying: “Northwestern University administration’s actions must always be apolitical, balanced, and reflective of the highest of ethics and moral standards. The assignment of Loretta Lynch to an internal committee in this highly volatile climate is not appropriate given the political controversies surrounding her history and reputation.”

In closing, the letter criticized Northwestern leadership, saying they’ve “left a welcome mat out
for the weaponization of sexual harassment, hazing, and racism accusations to run rampant at
Northwestern University.”

“Our faith in Northwestern University’s current administration’s ability to lead our athletic
program effectively during this tumultuous time has been severely compromised. If there is no effort to positively support our athletic programs with due process along with the release of the findings of Northwestern’s original investigation, we have no choice but to call for the dismissal of both Vice President of Athletics Derrick Gragg and President Michael Schill.”

It’s been a tumultuous month-and-a-half in Evanston following the firing of Fitzgerald along with the surfacing of other allegations in a few Northwestern sports. Baseball coach Jim Foster, who was under investigation for allegations of improper conduct, was fired by the university and replaced this past Friday by Ben Greenspan.

A number of lawsuits have been filed in the wake of the hazing allegations from former athletes in the football program and in other sports, which WGN News has followed both on-air and online.

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