A former Latino football player, Ramon Diaz, has come forward with disturbing allegations of racial hazing that took place during his time on Northwestern University’s football team. Diaz, now 36 years old, claims that when he was just 17, upperclassmen on the team shaved a racist symbol into his head on Cinco de Mayo, while other teammates watched. Speaking at a press conference, Diaz expressed his sadness and frustration, stating, “It’s hard to understand why someone would use that symbol on Cinco de Mayo. I’ve not seen a football game in over 10 years because of what happened to me.”
Diaz, who played on the team from 2005 to 2008, filed a lawsuit against Northwestern University on Wednesday, joining others in seeking legal action against the institution’s allegedly racist and sexually abusive athletic department. As the only Latino offensive linebacker at the time, Diaz recounted the mockery and ridicule he endured on a day that holds significant meaning for him, his family, and the wider Latino community.
According to Diaz, his teammates shaved “05/05” on his head, incorporating the date of Cinco de Mayo. The Daily Northwestern, the university’s student paper, initially reported hazing within the football team in July. Subsequently, head coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired after a 17-year tenure, as an investigation revealed the extensive prevalence of hazing, with allegations suggesting he should have been aware of the troubling incidents.
Former players of color have spoken up about the emotional and psychological distress caused by the environment at Northwestern. Diaz shared his own experience of racist comments made by coaches and athletes, which fueled further mistreatment targeting players of color. He recalled an offensive line coach, Bret Ingalls, telling him, “I know you grew up on dirt floors, but here we try to keep things clean,” along with other disparaging remarks. Ingalls denied the accusations, stating that they were baseless.
The revelation of a letter circulating online, attributed to “the ENTIRE Northwestern Football Team,” defending Fitzgerald and vehemently denying all accusations of abuse and racism, prompted Diaz to speak out. He emphasized the devastating psychological impact of the environment, disclosing that it led him to attempt suicide.
Northwestern University President Michael Schill condemned hazing unequivocally, affirming that it has no place within the institution. In response to the allegations, the university has hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to conduct an independent investigation into the athletics department.
Furthermore, Northwestern announced an investigation into the role of Matt MacPherson, who is still listed as the head coach. Former players maintain that MacPherson witnessed the hazing firsthand but failed to intervene. Lloyd Yates, a former quarterback, voiced his disappointment with the university and the football program, expressing that they had let the players down.
Diaz, now a licensed clinical therapist pursuing a doctorate in neuropsychology, expressed concern for his children, stating that he could not bear the thought of them experiencing the same mistreatment. Other players have also come forward, acknowledging similar incidents.
In a time where solidarity and respect should prevail, Diaz’s allegations highlight the pressing need to address racism and abuse within sports and educational institutions. Northwestern University finds itself at a critical juncture, where a thorough investigation and appropriate action are necessary to ensure that such deplorable incidents are eradicated and those responsible are held accountable.