Northwestern administrators failed to give football coach Pat Fitzgerald his "due process" before firing him and tarnished his "legacy and character," a group of former athletes at the school charged Monday in an open letter.
ESPN obtained the letter, signed by 86 people, including some who were teammates of Fitzgerald when he played for the Wildcats. Per ESPN, the letter states that campus president Michael Schill and athletic director Derrick Gragg both had "a clear failure of unbiased and principled leadership" and should be ousted if they don't "positively support our athletic programs with due process" and also release results of a campus investigation.
Fitzgerald was terminated July 10 following allegations of hazing and other abuse in the program. Fitzgerald has denied knowing about any wrongdoing.
A university investigation completed before Fitzgerald was fired showed a hazing allegation likely could be proved but could not determine that Fitzgerald or his staff were aware of just what went on in the program.
"We share Northwestern University administration's deep concern over the possibility that any student-athlete has been harmed by sexual harassment, hazing, or racism while at Northwestern University," the letter reads, but added that without a proper investigation, no one should be presumed guilty.
The way administrators handled the situation could leave staff members vulnerable to future allegations that could be unsubstantiated, and Fitzgerald already has been harmed, per the letter.
"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. "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."
Allegations of hazing and mistreatment have spread to other sports programs at Northwestern, and the school has brought in former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to lead an investigation into the athletic culture at the school.
In the letter Monday, the former athletes said they were not in favor of Lynch's role in the investigation, citing "political controversies surrounding her history and reputation."
Northwestern has not yet commented on the letter.
—Field Level Media