Ex-athletes defend Northwestern athletics’ culture in letter

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More than 1,000 former Northwestern athletes have sent an open letter condemning hazing “in any form” while also defending an athletics culture they say is not represented or defined by allegations that surfaced this summer against some of the school’s programs.

The letter, obtained by ESPN, is signed by ex-Northwestern athletes in every varsity sport at the school, including 277 football players and four football managers. The athletes felt compelled to speak out following a wave of lawsuits and other allegations outlining widespread problems at the university.

“The allegations being made are troubling and we support the University’s efforts to fully investigate these claims,” the letter reads. “However, these allegations do not represent or define the overall athletics culture at Northwestern.”

Northwestern is facing lawsuits from more than 10 former football players, who allege hazing and other forms of mistreatment within the program. A former volleyball player also filed a lawsuit alleging hazing and mistreatment, and attorneys representing the former athletes have hinted at further claims involving other sports programs at Northwestern.

On Aug. 1, the university announced that it had hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to conduct an investigation of the overall athletics culture and the way the department implements accountability mechanisms.

In Thursday’s letter, the former Northwestern athletes cited “a remarkable culture that fosters excellence in sports, academics and community development.” The letter’s authors include athletes who graduated from Northwestern between 1954 and 2023. Each sport has more than 10 former players who signed, and many have more than 40.

“The opportunity to compete at this level in both the classroom and in our respective sports is unique and deeply valued,” the letter reads. “These experiences were the building blocks for each of our lives after graduation. This is the Northwestern we proudly came to know and appreciate, and for which we are immensely grateful.

“We strongly affirm the positive experiences we had at Northwestern and, if offered, would do it all over again.”

Alexis Prousis, a two-time All-American and NCAA champion in tennis at Northwestern, said she and other former athletes from the school “share the anger, sadness, and frustration” following the allegations of hazing and mistreatment.

“We condemn hazing of any kind and support the victims during their time of healing and recovery,” said Prousis, a past president of Northwestern’s N Club, which connects former athletes to the school. “What we must remember throughout this difficult time is that the actions of a few do not and should not define the University and Athletics as a whole.”

University president Michael Schill fired longtime football coach Pat Fitzgerald on July 10, citing a partially “broken” team culture. Schill since has released several messages of support for Northwestern’s current athletes.

Interim football coach David Braun on Wednesday praised former players for their support of the current team, which he expects to continue at Northwestern’s home opener Sept. 9.

“I certainly hope that this community, our alumni, all those that are associated with Northwestern University and Northwestern athletics, will come out and show full support for 103 young men that have worked their butts off over the course of the last four weeks and have come together to do something really special,” Braun said. “I’m really confident that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”

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