Former Northwestern player says harassment includes sexualized acts

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Former Northwestern player says harassment includes sexualized acts

Adam RittenbergESPN Senior WriterJuly 8, 2023, 4:18 PM ET3 minutes of reading

A former Northwestern football player on Saturday detailed several incidents of abuse within the program to The Daily Northwestern, some involving sexual acts carried out by upperclassmen to punish younger players for mistakes in practices and games.

The former player, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Daily Northwestern that sexual harassment took place in the team’s locker room. A common practice, called “running,” involved holding down a younger player while eight to ten older players engaged in a sexual act in the locker room. Versions of the “run” were held during certain parts of the year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“It’s a shocking experience as a freshman to see your fellow freshmen get run, but then you see everybody standing in the locker room,” the former player told The Daily Northwestern. “It’s just a really abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated this program for years now.”

According to the newspaper, the former player reported his allegations to the school in late 2022 and spoke with investigators during a six-month investigation commissioned by the university, the findings of which were released Friday.

Northwestern cited an “anonymous whistleblower” in its report on the investigation.

The school said the allegations of cheating could be “largely substantiated” and that “there was considerable opportunity to discover and report” what happened, but investigators did not find enough evidence to prove the coaches knew for the activities. Investigators also got different perspectives on the behavior after interviews with current and former players.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was suspended Friday for two weeks without pay, one of several actions implemented in response to Northwestern. The other measures include ending off-campus preseason practices in Kenosha, Wis., where some of the alleged harassment occurred, and a new football locker room monitor who will not report to Fitzgerald or his staff.

Northwestern on Saturday said in a statement to ESPN that it would not comment on the investigation beyond what it released Friday. Sources with direct knowledge told ESPN that investigators are now aware of the allegations made by the former player.

“Our first priority is to support and protect our students, including the young man who brought these matters to attention and all the student-athletes who had the courage to come forward in this independent investigation,” Northwestern said in a statement Saturday. “That’s why the university immediately began this investigation after learning of the allegations and why we took decisive action after establishing the facts.”

In a statement sent to ESPN by Northwestern’s football team Saturday night, the players condemned the abuse while expressing their support for Fitzgerald and his “unwavering commitment to our team.”

“We want to reiterate that as representatives of the Northwestern Football program, we do not tolerate bullying in any form,” the statement read. “Intrusion goes against our values ​​of respect, integrity and personal growth. We are committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes the well-being and development of every person in our team.”

The statement also described the allegations as “exaggerated and distorted”.

“It is disheartening to see that the allegations leveled against our team have been exaggerated and twisted into lies. These fabrications were made with the intent to harm our program and tarnish the reputation of our dedicated players and coaching staff,” the statement said. “We strongly deny the merits of these allegations and are united in our assertion that they do not reflect the true character of our team.

Fitzgerald, an award-winning alum who has coached at Northwestern since 2006, said in a statement Friday that he was very disappointed to hear about the abuse allegations and had no prior knowledge of the incidents.

“Northwestern football prides itself on producing not only athletes, but fine young men of character befitting the program and our university,” Fitzgerald said in his statement. “We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed these standards going forward.”

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