McGraw: Nothing surprising about what happened at Northwestern, just a repeat of a sad, familiar story

For better or worse, I'm at a stage of my sports journalism career where the revelations about the Northwestern football team weren't shocking, weren't surprising.

They felt familiar.

There have been hazing scandals over the years in the suburbs. I've known athletes involved, known coaches involved and heard explicit details that weren't fit to print in a family newspaper. In a related category, I've also heard plenty of people describe their college fraternity rituals.

Every time, the first reaction is to ask obvious questions.

"How could this happen?"

"What were they thinking?"

"Why didn't anybody stop it?"

The answers aren't too hard to figure out.

Pranks occur, people laugh. Don't worry, it's all about team bonding. This is what it means to be part of a group. Don't complain about it, you'll break the bond we have.

Feeling angry, embarrassed or humiliated by what happened? Don't worry, you'll have a chance to do it to someone else next year. The rest of us will sit back and laugh.

That's how conflicting sets of opinion arise. One group of Northwestern players is tweeting about what a great experience they had playing for former coach Pat Fitzgerald. Others tell stories about a locker room culture gone awry. There's nothing unusual about this divergence of opinion.

Accounts from former NU players detailed in The Daily Northwestern and raise plenty of questions that should have been answered by the school's original investigation.

Did Fitzgerald single out players for punishment during practices, as at least two players claimed? Did abusive behavior increase during last year's dismal 1-11 campaign? And when did this behavior start?

The No. 1 takeaway from the Northwestern story should be trying to prevent it from happening again - anywhere. Coaches can set the correct tone from Day 1 on the job. Any type of hazing will not be tolerated. If you desire some team bonding, go climb a mountain or complete a ropes course or something like that.

And be aware of what happens in the locker room. It doesn't have to be weird or anything, but go in there and talk to players, ask how the math test went, ask if their mother is doing well. Players need to know an adult could walk through the door at any time, someone who cares enough not to tolerate fake team bonding.

The initial Northwestern investigation stipulated a locker room monitor be hired, so it's not like there's a ton of gray area here.

Parents can teach their kids to stand up, speak out and do not tolerate abusive behavior, even when faced with heavy peer pressure.

It's OK to have mixed feelings about Northwestern's decision to dismiss Fitzgerald. Some great accomplishments happened during his tenure and only time will tell if the program can be revived by a new coach. Players transferred into Northwestern expecting to play for Fitzgerald this season. Sympathy for their plight is warranted.

At least NU was able to put a relatively new face in charge. Defensive coordinator David Braun, who was named interim coach, was just hired from North Dakota State in January.

Just don't feel sorry for Fitzgerald. If he's as great a coach as so many former players claim, he should have done better.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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