Northwestern Will Add Mandatory Anti-Hazing Seminars

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Northwestern University athletic teams will begin participating in mandatory, in-person anti-hazing seminars conducted by outside groups, beginning with the football team, according to athletic director Derrick Gragg.

Gragg, speaking for the first time since a hazing scandal rocked the football program and the entire private-school campus, told ESPN that he is committed toward making sure that "nothing like this ever happens again."

"This entire situation, it's distressing," Gragg told ESPN, as reported by Adam Rittenberg. "My heart goes out to everyone who's involved -- victims, of course -- but I also want to stress that we have many student-athletes who do the right thing and have always done the right thing, and coaches and staff, as well. As the situation evolves, we're very serious about eradicating anything that's wrong, the president and the university.

"Not only eradicating it, but also trying to ensure, to the highest levels, that nothing like this ever happens again."

Gragg said Northwestern will investigate any claims or evidence of hazing involving its athletic programs.

In addition to the anti-hazing seminars, Gragg said Northwestern is ensuring that its system for anonymously reporting hazing or other mistreatment is functioning correctly. He also plans to form a committee of experts on hazing and other misconduct, and "enhance our education" in those areas.

"Sometimes people try to maybe scale things, but we have to ensure that student-athletes are properly bonding and that no one feels compelled or pressured to do anything that they don't want to do," Gragg said. "There's no place for that. There's no place for hazing. There's no place for misconduct. If you're going to continue to build a positive culture, you have to eradicate it."

Northwestern president Michael Schill fired head football coach Pat Fitzgerald on July 10, two days after student reporters at The Daily Northwestern published detailed allegations of the culture within Fitzgerald's program. The former coach, named as a defendant in multiple lawsuits, has denied knowledge of hazing.

Gragg, who was hired in June 2021, has drawn criticism for not holding a news conference to address the situation, but said he has spent the past two weeks meeting with athletes, coaches, staff, trustees and others around the program. According to Rittenberg, Gragg was part of the call informing Fitzgerald of his termination, and the athletic director addressed players via Zoom during a team meeting on the night of July 10.

"There are a lot of issues, a lot of sensitivities around legalities, so I wanted to make sure that I was in total lockstep with the university," Gragg told ESPN "You've seen the president has been more outward-facing. I obviously never wanted to do anything to preempt him or be in front of him. So I have concentrated 100 percent on internal messaging, first of all with the student-athletes and everyone connected with our program."

In an interview published Monday by the Daily, Schill gave the embattled Gragg a vote of confidence.

Related: Northwestern President: No Plans to Fire AD Over Hazing Scandal

Gragg played wide receiver at Vanderbilt, and served as AD at Eastern Michigan and Tulsa before arriving in Evanston.

"My background as a former student-athlete and a leader, it's in times like these ... where I'm most effective, to be honest," Gragg told ESPN. "It starts with internal communication and making sure that our internal systems are in place and that we're communicating how we're going to move forward."

He said he never sensed players did not want to go forward with the season, which begins Sept. 3, and he thinks the team is handling the situation "as best as they possibly can," Rittenberg reported.

No players were named in Northwestern's external investigation launched late last year, or in any of the lawsuits filed.

"No current players were named in any of the allegations, but obviously if anyone's name appears or we get more allegations from more teams or whatever, we'll make sure that they are investigated," Gragg said.

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