Mike Polisky has faced harsh criticism since he was tapped to lead the athletic department at Northwestern University, stemming from his handling of allegations made by members of the school’s cheerleading team. Polisky’s hiring has prompted backlash from faculty and student-athletes, but according to Inside NU, most coaches are supportive of the move.
The controversy surrounding Polisky stems from his time as Northwestern’s deputy director of athletics for external affairs — a position which oversees marketing, including the cheerleading team. Former cheerleader Erika Carter accused Polisky of being responsible for a number of what she viewed as racist policies, including policies that required cheerleaders to wear approved hairstyles, which were not inclusive of ethnic-style braids or would require Black cheerleaders to wear wigs if they wished to wear their hair natural.
In addition, Polisky was accused by some members of the cheerleading team of failing to properly report allegations of sexual harassment members that were brought to him as a mandated reporter.
Despite those allegations, Polisky appears to have the support of coaches within his department. Spencer Allen, Northwestern’s head baseball coach and the Big Ten’s first Black head baseball coach spoke to Inside NU to express his support for the hire — while avoiding addressing the allegations brought by cheerleaders directly.
“The coaching staff, people within our athletic department and people who have worked with him just genuinely feel like he’s a great individual and a great human being,” Allen told Inside NU.
Other coaches, including NU’s director of golf and player development Pat Gross, head wrestling coach Matt Storniolo, head women’s golf coach Emily Fletcher, head softball coach Kate Drohan and head lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller have all expressed public support for Polisky’s hiring. Allen told Inside NU that those expressions of support represent a majority of opinion among the coaching ranks at the school.
“I think my experience and the people that I’m interacting with are really excited about Mike and excited just about the future of Northwestern athletics,” he said.
Still, Inside NU reports that Polisky’s hiring has resulted in a divide within the department — with many student-athletes expressing skepticism. One student-athlete who anonymously spoke to Inside NU said Polisky’s hiring is a step in the wrong direction.
“I feel like a lot of people had hoped that who they were going to hire was going to be someone that was representative of things that athletes have been pushing for,” the student-athlete said. “Personally, it’s just disappointing, having an opportunity to do something different, and time and time again, it’s just the same story.”