Northwestern denounces football staffers for ‘tone deaf’ shirts worn at practice amid hazing lawsuits

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Northwestern University denounced a few football coaches and staffers who wore shirts appearing to pay tribute to former head coach Pat Fitzgerald at practice on Wednesday.

Fitzgerald was fired from the school in July after allegations of hazing within the Wildcats football program, in which the university faces several lawsuits.

The shirt reads “Cats Against The World” with the number 51 below the slogan. Fitzgerald wore the 51 jersey when he played for the school in the mid-90s. Players on the team wore their normal practice uniforms.

“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.”

An independent investigation commissioned by Northwestern prior to Fitzgerald’s firing found evidence of ongoing hazing that included “forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature,” university president Michael Schill said in a July letter.

Though the investigation found no “credible evidence” Fitzgerald was aware of the alleged hazing, the head coach is ultimately responsible for the team’s culture, Schill said. Fitzgerald has denied any knowledge of hazing in the program.

Last week, Northwestern announced former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch would lead an independent review of athletics department culture and accountability mechanisms in wake of hazing lawsuits.

At last month’s Big Ten Media Day, interim head coach David Braun declined to address reporters’ questions about the hazing allegations but said it had been a very difficult time for current and former players and staff members. He added that the coaches would focus in the future on each player having “the ultimate student-athlete experience.”

Northwestern opens its 2023 season at Rutgers University in New Jersey on September 3.

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