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Ex-Northwestern AD Regrets Handling of Allegations

Jason Scott

Prior to resigning his position as athletic director at Northwestern University, Mike Polisky told student-athletes that he wished he had been more sympathetic to claims of sexual harassment brought to him by cheerleaders.

Polisky’s elevation to the AD role was met with backlash. Some cheerleaders claimed Polisky did not do enough to address claims of sexual harassment the cheerleading team had brought to him as a mandated reporter. Black cheerleaders also expressed that policies on the team wer racially discriminatory — such as a policy banning particular hairstyles often worn by Black women. In his previous role, Polisky oversaw the cheerleading team. 

Audio of the meeting, with student-athletes and staff, was secretly recorded and obtained by WBEZ. In the audio, Polisky can be heard admitting he wished he had done more with the cheerleading claims.

“I wish that I would have been more empathetic in the moment. … I think that that might have alleviated some of the angst and frustration from some of the members of the cheer team,” Polisky says.

“My reaction, I think, might have been not as sympathetic as they deserved it to be. I was more in the mindset of ‘Oh my gosh, OK, let’s start fixing this,’ just being a little bit more regimented in my response. And what I really needed to say repeatedly was, ‘I’m so so sorry, and this should never have occurred to you.’ And that’s the kind of empathy that I wished that I had expressed.”

When Polisky was first named athletic director, Northwestern said that there was no evidence that Polisky had violated any school policies. In the meeting, Polisky himself said that he followed the “letter of the law,” with regard to how he handled the situation. 

Nevertheless, Polisky stepped down the day after the secretly recorded meeting. 

“It has become clear to me that the current challenges will not allow me to effectively lead our department, especially during these unsettling times in college athletics,” Polisky said in a statement when he resigned.

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