CHICAGO (AP) — Two more former Northwestern University football players came forward Friday saying they experienced racist treatment during their time on the team in the early 2000s.
Noah Herron and Rico Lamitte said Black players were pressured to conform to white norms and faced unfair punishments. They spoke at a news conference hosted by Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard, a Chicago law firm representing more than 50 former Northwestern athletes. Attorney Patrick Salvi said Herron and Lamitte are not plaintiffs in any lawsuits “as of right now.”
Herron, a star running back at Northwestern from 2000 to 2004 who played in the NFL, said Black players with braids and longer hair were told to cut it even though white players were allowed to wear their hair long.
“Northwestern not only treated players of color differently than our white teammates, but they tried to conform us in our appearance to resemble white teammates — or what Northwestern would consider ‘the Wildcat Way,’” Herron said. “Northwestern recruited me as a football player, but refused to see me and accept me as a man — a Black man who was and is proud of my race and culture.”
Lamitte, who played under the name Rico Tarver from 2001 to 2005, said he and other Black players were told by the football staff they needed to change the way they acted and dressed. He recalled being a few feet from Rashidi Wheeler when he died during practice in 2001 and said the team wasn't given the chance it needed to heal.
“That set the tone for what I would experience over the next 4 1/2 years of my life,” he said. “I was threatened and forced to conform to the ‘Wildcat Way,’ a toxic environment that had no room or tolerance for me as a Black man.”
The head coach when Herron and Lamitte played was Randy Walker. Pat Fitzgerald, an assistant at the time, took over in 2006 following Walker's death and led the Wildcats for 17 seasons.
He was fired in July, a few days after initially being suspended following an investigation by attorney Maggie Hickey of law firm ArentFox Schiff. That probe did not find “sufficient” evidence that the coaching staff knew about ongoing hazing but concluded there were “significant opportunities” to find out about it. Fitzgerald is suing the school for $130 million, saying his alma mater wrongfully fired him.
Northwestern is facing more than a dozen lawsuits across multiple sports with allegations including sexual abuse of players by teammates, as well as racist comments by coaches and race-based assaults. Northwestern hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch three months ago to lead an investigation into the culture of its athletic department and its anti-hazing procedures.
“Hazing has no place at Northwestern,” the school said Friday. “Any claims of racially motivated hazing are not only disturbing but completely antithetical to our educational and athletics mission. We are and will always be committed to diversity, and we investigate any specific hazing allegation we receive to confirm that every Northwestern student feels safe and included.”