INDIANAPOLIS -- Northwestern football players Bryce Gallagher, Rod Heard II and Bryce Kirtz will not attend Big Ten media days Wednesday because of the increased attention on the program's hazing scandal.
In a joint statement, the three Wildcats juniors said they decided not to participate after speaking with their families, teammates and interim coach David Braun, who will attend Wednesday as the two days of events get underway. Northwestern players have not spoken to the media since the July 10 firing of coach Pat Fitzgerald. University leaders have not held any news conferences, although President Michael Schill spoke Monday to The Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper.
"This was very difficult since we were excited about the opportunity to participate in this great Big Ten tradition, and to talk about the game we love and the season ahead," Gallagher, Heard and Kirtz said in their statement Tuesday. "But given the recent events involving the Northwestern football program, we did not want our participation to be dominated by the hazing issue and steal the focus away from football and the upcoming season. We are proud members of the NU football program and want our on-field performance and off-field conduct to always reflect the values of the university and our fans."
Braun said he supports the players' choice to not attend.
"The decision from our players to forgo Big Ten Media Day was entirely theirs, and they approached it with a great deal of maturity and thoughtfulness," Braun said in a statement. "I'm fully supportive of both their reasoning and the decision itself, and I look forward to attending the event."
Northwestern is facing four lawsuits from former football players alleging widespread hazing and abusive behavior in the program. Fitzgerald is the only coach or staff member who has been fired. The school is looking into allegations from a lawsuit Monday that longtime assistant Matt MacPherson was aware of hazing incidents.
Former Northwestern player Lloyd Yates, who sued the university Monday, said he didn't identify players who led hazing incidents because he considers them "victims" of the program's culture. None of the lawsuits filed has named current or former players. Northwestern has not punished any current assistant, staff member or player, but the school has said it will investigate allegations as it becomes aware of them.
On July 8, a statement attributed to the entire Northwestern team stated that hazing is not tolerated in the program and described allegations from a former player as "exaggerated and twisted." The statement defended Fitzgerald, saying he had no knowledge of the allegations until the school initiated a hazing investigation in December.
Northwestern is set to begin preseason practices in August and play its first game Sept. 3 at Rutgers.