Another Letter by Ex-Athletes Slams NU Over Fitzgerald Firing

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Another letter by former Northwestern University athletes, including several of Pat Fitzgerald's former football teammates, questions the school's administrative leadership and alleges a lack of due process in firing Fitzgerald amid hazing allegations within his program.

As reported by Adam Rittenberg of ESPN, the open letter criticizes university administrators for a lack of due process before the July 10 firing of Fitzgerald, saying it "left a welcome mat out for the weaponization of sexual harassment, hazing, and racism allegations" at the school.

The letter, obtained Monday by ESPN, is signed by 86 former Northwestern athletes and argues that both  university president Michael Schill and athletic director Derrick Gragg displayed "a clear failure of unbiased and principled leadership" and should be fired if they don't "positively support our athletic programs with due process." The athletes ask for the release the findings of an investigation Northwestern commissioned into hazing allegations from a former player under Fitzgerald.

Schill fired Fitzgerald after first suspending him for two weeks based on a university-commissioned investigation that found evidence that largely supported the player's allegations but insufficient evidence that Fitzgerald or other coaches were aware of any hazing incidents. The Daily Northwestern student newspaper reported details of the player's hazing allegations, prompting Schill to reconsider the consequences for Fitzgerald, a two-time national defensive player of the year when competing for the Wildcats in the 1990s. He would later become the winningest head coach in university history over a 17-year tenure leading the football program..

Related: Northwestern Fires Pat Fitzgerald As Hazing Scandal Grows

According to Rittenberg, Monday's letter contends Schill was influenced by social media reaction and "abandoned foundational legal ethics" in firing Fitzgerald.

"By willfully ignoring due process, Northwestern University's administration has left a welcome mat out for the weaponization of sexual harassment, hazing, and racism accusations to run rampant at Northwestern University," the letter reads, as reported by ESPN. "Any allegation, true or not, will be allowed to cancel anyone's career and destroy their reputation depending upon popular opinion, while simultaneously allowing the censorship of free speech. The collective gains of Northwestern's Athletic Department over the last three decades, along with Pat Fitzgerald's legacy and character, have almost been wiped out without any proof of guilt or, much less, even a thorough and proper investigation."

The former athletes wrote that Gragg "fosters an environment of uncertainty, distrust, and censorship" in the athletic department. They cited Gragg's repudiation of a T-shirt Northwestern players designed and began wearing in football facilities in mid-July. The shirts read "Cats Against The World" followed by "51," the number Fitzgerald wore at Northwestern. Several staff members wore the shirt at an Aug. 9 practice that was open to the media, leading Gragg, who said he didn't know about the shirt previously, to call it "inappropriate, offensive and tone deaf."

"His comments worked to incite public opinion against his own program," the letter reads. "Gragg made no effort to explain the team's true intent before renouncing and shaming the players' speech."

Northwestern's administration declined ESPN's request for comment..

Last week, a different group of around 1,000 former Northwestern athletes representing all varsity sports issued an open letter that defended the athletics culture at the school. Schill had said the football culture was partially broken when justifying the termination of Fitzgerald.

Related: Hundreds of Wildcat Alums Come to Defense of Northwestern Athletics

As reported by Rittenberg, former athletes who signed the new letter include members of Northwestern's 1995 Big Ten championship team, including captain Rob Johnson, Keith Lozowski, Ryan Padgett, Tucker Morrison and Graham Gnos.

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