Evanston, Illinois (AP) — Northwestern athletic director Derek Garage has criticized assistant football coaches and staff for wearing supportive jerseys. He fired coach Pat Fitzgerald into practice on Wednesday, calling them “inappropriate, offensive and stigmatizing.” Hazing and abuse scandal Sweeping the program and other teams.
“Let me be absolutely clear,” he said in a statement. “Hazing has no place at Northwestern, and we are committed to doing everything necessary to address hazing-related issues, including thoroughly investigating any incidents, allegations of hazing, or other misconduct.”
Garage said he and the university were unaware that the staff owned the black shirts. Cats against the world and Fitzgerald’s old number “51” in purple or worn during practice. He issued the statement after interim coach David Brown called it a free speech issue and said his focus was on supporting his players and staff rather than whether the jerseys were deaf.
Three players voiced their support for Fitzgerald and defended the program’s culture Wednesday after the Wildcats’ first practice open to the media. It was the first time since the hazing allegations surfaced that Northwestern players had been made available to reporters.
“The shirts were really just a reminder to let us hold each other,” said receiver Bryce Curtis.
Linebacker Bryce Gallagher echoed that, “Just a reminder for us to hold on to each other during this tough time, just leaning on each other. We know the only people we need are the people in this facility.”
Northwestern faces more than a dozen lawsuits across multiple sports with allegations including sexual abuse of players by teammates as well as racist comments by coaches and Race-based assaults. The cases run from 2004 to 2022, and attorneys representing some of the athletes who have already sued say more is to come.
Fitzgerald, who was fired after 17 seasons, maintained that he had no knowledge of hazing on his show. President Michael Schell and Garage have largely limited their public comments to statements made in the news releases, and, with the exception of a few interviews, did not answer reporters’ questions.
Brown said his focus was on his players, not their opinions on the scandal.
“My goal and intent will just be based on supporting these young people, supporting these employees, making sure that my actions are aligned with making sure that this fall is a great experience for them,” Brown said. “It is certainly not my business to censor anyone’s freedom of expression.”
Curtis, Gallagher and defensive back Rod Hurd II spoke positively of the program and Fitzgerald while declining to address specific allegations.
“We were clearly devastated,” Gallagher said. “Nobody wants to lose their coach or for that change to happen. We loved Coach Fitz and are devastated not to have him here, but we totally believe in Coach Brown. He was incredible and he did a great job leading us and he really showed us how much he cared for us.”
Brown was promoted to interim head coach about six months after being hired as defensive coordinator. He has no college coaching experience. His job is to help install a program that has taken a hit in its image.
“The reason I do what I do is make sure the young people in our program have an amazing student experience and athlete,” Brown said. “I do everything I can to make sure I do just that. The divider certainly has no (place).”
Brown said he has been in touch with Fitzgerald, just as he has been with other parents of players, since the coaching change. Fitzgerald’s son Jack, a freshman, is still on the team, even though he was serving as the freshman coach on Wednesday.
Brown also said he lived at the Fitzgerald home for two months while looking for a home after spending a few nights in a hotel.
“The relationship with Pat is much deeper than anyone I’ve worked with for six months,” he said.
For recruits and parents who may have specific concerns and questions in light of the allegations, Heard said, “The people in this building are amazing. We’ve always had people with high character.”
The allegations and lawsuits paint a different picture for the football program and the athletic department.
“Like we’ve said, we’re not talking about any allegations that are out there right now,” Gallagher said. “We’re focused on next season. But this place is great. Academics and football, playing in the Big Ten, is obviously why we chose to come here. And that’s what I would say to recruits is you get the best of both worlds.”
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