Northwestern athletic director Derrick Gragg is disappointed that coaches and staff members wore shirts on Wednesday that were apparently in support of former coach Pat Fitzgerald in the wake of allegations of hazing in the program.
The shirts read “Cats Against the World” and displayed the number 51 — Fitzgerald’s jersey number when he was a star player at Northwestern.
Said interim coach David Braun: “It is not my business to censor anyone’s free speech.”
The tone from Gragg was much different.
“I am extremely disappointed that a few members of our football program staff decided to wear ‘Cats Against the World’ shirts,” Gragg said in a statement. “Neither I nor the university was aware that they owned or would wear these shirts today. The shirts are inappropriate, offensive and tone deaf.
“Let me be crystal clear: Hazing has no place at Northwestern, and we are committed to do whatever is necessary to address hazing-related issues, including thoroughly investigating any incidents or allegations of hazing or any other misconduct.”
News that the Northwestern football program was being investigated for hazing surfaced in January with the school later saying it received a complaint in November alleging instances of hazing inside the locker room.
But the turmoil exploded when Fitzgerald was suspended in July and later fired.
A player then came forward to the student newspaper, the Daily Northwestern, and revealed that the investigation was not just into allegations of hazing, but alleged coerced sexual acts.
On Wednesday, current Northwestern players said they were not discussing the hazing situation and were focused on the 2023 season.
“We’re not addressing any past hazing allegations,” linebacker Bryce Gallagher told reporters. “What I can tell you is right now we have a great culture in our locker room and the guys are really sticking together through all this. The older guys are really just focused on helping these younger guys out, helping each other get through this, and just leaning on our relationships.”
Northwestern players went through a mandatory anti-hazing seminar last week while Braun said hazing won’t be part of the team environment moving forward. Braun said only seven players entered the transfer portal during the 30-day window after Fitzgerald’s firing.
Defensive back Rod Heard II said that togetherness is a big foundation of the program.
“It just shows that what we have here is valued,” Heard told reporters. “The players that stayed, they want to be here. And the players that left, we fully support their decision in doing so.”
Fitzgerald spent 26 years with the Wildcats — four as a player, five as an assistant and 17 as head coach — and is a member of the Northwestern Athletics Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
He was a two-time consensus All-American linebacker during his playing stint from 1993-96. He was one of the stars of the Northwestern squad that stunningly won the Big Ten crown in 1995 but he missed the Rose Bowl loss to Southern California due to a broken leg.
Fitzgerald, 48, was 110-101 with 10 bowl appearances (5-5 record) in 17 seasons as head coach. The Wildcats were 1-11 in 2022.
Northwestern opens the 2023 season at Rutgers on Sept. 3.
–Field Level Media