Northwestern Athletics’ atrocities highlight the need for student media

Pat Fitzgerald, coach for the Northwestern University football program, and his players. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

PantherNOW Editorial Board

Warning: This article contains mention of sexual abuse. 

One of the biggest sports scandals in recent history shows us why student journalism is so important

The Daily Northwestern, the student paper of Northwestern University, dropped a bombshell article in early July that featured interviews of former Northwestern football players who spoke out regarding the team’s brutal and vile hazing culture. 

A story of this magnitude, capable of making national headlines, wasn’t broken by some big, “professional” news organization. 

Students did it. 

Players reported a practice known as “running,” which according to a lawsuit filed against the school consisted of “8-10 upperclassmen, dressed in masks, holding down a player, and dry-humping the player in a dark locker room.”  

“Running” a player was a punishment for their practice and field mistakes.

Other reports detail even more horror stories where freshmen would be stripped naked and forced to perform acts like circus animals. 

To those upperclassmen, it was all a joke and part of the team bonding experience. But for those who experienced it, it was the stuff of nightmares. 

Saying no wasn’t an option for freshmen as they were threatened to be “ran.” Telling anybody about the hazing would be considered snitching and upperclassmen emphasized that doing so would also get them “ran.”

The ritual was considered a common rite of passage, cloaked in good intentions, that brandished the newcomers with a stamp of approval from the whole team.

However, the horrific experience and the trauma will last for years. Having students’ dignity trampled to enter the ranks of an athletic team by undergoing that kind of treatment is revolting.

It’s sexual assault. There is no sugarcoating it. 

And while this happened, the athletics department and coaching staff sat idly and did nothing. Only after being exposed did they play hot potato to cover up their disgusting incompetence. 

Ultimately, this scandal resulted in a fired head coach, a lawsuit and a permanent stain on the legacy and integrity of the football program. 

And not only did they break the story, the student journalists at The Daily Northwestern have been providing quality, round-the-clock coverage of everything as it unfolds. 

Only a few weeks later, the same month as the Northwestern scandal, The Stanford Daily reported that Stanford’s president was stepping down after proof of data research manipulation came to light. 

This is why we need student journalism. 

If it weren’t for the reporting done by these students, the cycle of fear and suffering of hopeful athletes would’ve continued. Incoming players would still be hazed and forced to live with it.

When a university administration covers up questionable activities, we cannot expect them to reveal secrets they would be much better off hiding. 

During these times, the public sees journalism negatively and routinely makes unfair assessments of the institution. For that reason, it’s a breath of fresh air to know that there still exist capable and passionate students willing to speak truth to power regardless of prejudices.

The sharp eyes and ears of The Daily Northwestern uncovering the secrets of their university to report the raw truth is commendable. Kudos to The Daily Northwestern for their efforts and continued coverage. 

To the victims, we can only extend our most sincere sympathies. When students enter an athletic team, it is not just the prospect of practicing the sport of their passion that is rejoicing but also their sense of belonging. The evil upperclassmen who engaged in these depraved actions and the cowardly, spineless coaching staff deserve the worst for taking advantage of these poor young men.

The actions of The Daily Northwestern in breaking this story should serve as a reminder of how powerful student-led organizations are. Wherever injustice hides within a college campus, bet student journalists will follow the trail. 

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