On Monday, Northwestern University fired long-time head football coach Pat Fitzgerald, as a result of a hazing scandal that has rocked the prestigious University. Initially, Fitzgerald was given a 2-game suspension, but amid the outcry from the school’s newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, the University president, Michael Schill, decided to terminate one of the most successful head coaches in the school’s history. Schill claimed that this scandal has called into question Fitzgerald’s leadership of the program and also, cited the damaged that was done to the University.
President Schill wrote in the dismissal letter that “the hazing included forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature, in clear violation of Northwestern policies and values.” The whistleblowers who exposed this hazing scandal, claimed that certain players were "forced to strip naked and perform various acts" such as naked pull-ups, "bear crawls", "slingshots", and even a quarterback taking a snap from a center while both players were naked, as well as having other sexually implicit acts performed on them.
In a letter signed by "the entire Northwestern football team", the team defended Fitzgerald and called the details as they were relayed to The Daily Northwestern, "exaggerated and twisted." The players claimed that Fitzgerald had no knowledge or participation in the hazing. The University claims that even though Fitzgerald didn’t know this hazing was happening, he should have known. It was willful ignorance. That may be true, but Fitzgerald and no one on his staff ever told a player to commit these acts. Fitzgerald’s willful ignorance is not enough to save his job, but it makes it clear that the perpetrators of these acts committed them on their own volition, and thus should be held accountable.
An unnamed current Northwestern player told ESPN that the whistleblower's sole intention in bringing the hazing allegations to light was to get Fitzgerald fired. The player said, "[the whistleblower] just kept emphasizing, 'Yeah, it'll be OK. I'm just trying to get Coach Fitz fired.'" The whistleblower confirmed to ESPN that getting Fitzgerald fired was part of his intent, but claimed the primary motivation was to remove the "heinous, illegal behavior" from the program. If that is true, then why is Fitzgerald the only target? If these whistleblowers are being truthful, then they should want every single current and former player who committed the hazing arrested and charged with sexual assault. But they are only going after the head coach while protecting the players – the actual perpetrators of the heinous acts.
All of the players who committed these acts were over the age of 18. They all were grown adults. Isn’t “forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts” also called sexual assault and even rape? And if they are, then shouldn’t the players who committed these acts be arrested, charged with a crime, and when convicted, thrown in prison for years? But that will never happen, so the head coach will be the only one punished for crimes that he did not commit. Why are the players escaping accountability? They fire the head coach, and everything is, okay? I don’t think so.
I’m not arguing that Fitzgerald should keep his job, he should be fired, but if these were as serious accusations as they are being made out to be to justify his firing, the players who committed these acts should be held criminally responsible. And if they are not, these accusations can be seen as being weaponized against the head coach to get him fired. The players who committed these acts made the conscious decision to commit them. No one put a gun to their heads. Yet they are getting away with it and all the blame is falling on the head coach. If the players that committed these acts are not all charged with a crime, then the University and the city of Evanston, Illinois, are making a statement that these acts were not as bad as they are claiming them to be.
It was right that Joe Paterno was fired, and his legacy destroyed for his willful ignorance of what Jerry Sandusky was doing to young boys at Penn State, but Sandusky was also thrown in prison for the rest of his life for the crimes he committed. Everyone was held accountable.
College athletes want the NIL money, they want the transfer portal, they want a high level of empowerment within the University and the program, which is great, but when they get caught committing criminal acts like sexual assault at the University, they immediately hide behind the pretense of being just a bunch of college kids, and all of their bad behavior is the responsibility of the coach. You can’t have it both ways.
It appears that the University is holding the head coach to the highest level of accountability, while at the same time, holding none of the players, who committed these atrocious acts accountable at all. It makes absolutely no sense. Either this type of behavior is tolerated, or it is not tolerated. If it is tolerated, then no one should be held accountable. If it is not tolerated, then everyone involved should be held accountable, even the players. You cannot pick and choose which people involved are held accountable and which ones you let off the hook.
This what’s going on in American politics and society, today. Donald Trump had classified documents at his home, he’s facing 100 years in prison. Hillary Clinton, Joe, Biden and Mike Pence had classified documents in their homes, and nothing is being done about it. They will never be charged with a crime. Black Lives Matter commits over 500 riots over the course of 6 months, killing over 30 people and causing billions of dollars’ worth of damage, and very few have been convicted of a serious crime for it, while many January 6th defendants spent years in prison for the crime of trespassing at the Capital.
When there is this much disparity into the way, the laws are enforced, it has nothing to do with the alleged crimes that were committed, it has everything to do with weaponizing the legal system to get somebody. And if the players are never charged, it will always appear that that is what happened to Pat Fitzgerald. And Northwestern will appear to not care enough about sexual assault on members of their student body to hold perpetrators of those acts to the full account under the law.
Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He has been a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.