Northwestern A.D. Hire Met with Strong Backlash, Planned Protests


When it comes to the Northwestern Athletic Director position, post Dr. Jim Phillips, indeed what a long, strange trip it’s been. After Philips left to become ACC Commissioner, the A.D. search received only a minimal amount of media coverage, and the school did a great job of keeping information from leaking out.

And despite the search dragging on for multiple months, NU decided to just go in house, and promote Mike Polisky, Northwestern’s deputy athletic director for external affairs since June 2010. Phillips, having been passed over for the Big Ten Commissioner job that he had strongly desired, took the ACC gig in December, and completed his term at NU in February.

Polisky’s promotion was made public over the weekend, and ever since we’ve seen a growing backlash. The process of finding a new A.D. was delayed due to Northwestern’s investigating a federal lawsuit filed by a former cheerleader, Hayden Richardson, who named Polisky, three others and the university itself in her complaint.

Filed in January, Richardson states that Polisky and the others condoned a “hostile environment” where she and the other cheerleaders were subjected to “groping, harassment, and sexual touching” by Northwestern alumni and fans attending events. Richardson claims that she was made to be treated like a “sex kitten,” and sexually harassed and sexually assaulted.

The complaint also goes on to state that Polisky accused Richardson of fabricating her claims, and that he didn’t allow her to meet with Phillips to discuss her grievances.

Northwestern filed a motion to dismiss “most of the complaint, including the individual defendants,” a university spokesperson said to the Chicago Tribune on Sunday.

“The university has reviewed the complaint and denies that Northwestern violated any law, including Title IX.”

Meanwhile six female faculty members sent an open letter yesterday to University Provost Kathleen Hagerty, and they’re planning a protest tomorrow that will march from campus to President Morton Schapiro’s home as a show of solidarity against the University’s decision to hire Polisky.

“We are alarmed by this decision and, indeed, embarrassed on behalf of the university,” reads a portion of the letter signed by the six faculty members.

“We believe that, at the very least, before Polisky is formally hired, the university must commission and make public an independent, transparent, third-party investigation that demonstrates that Polisky performed his legally mandated duties and acted with integrity when addressing the concerns of the cheerleaders and their allies.”

As you can see, this is getting ugly, and it’s likely that this will get worse before it gets better.

Polisky was a curious choice even if you don’t take into account his involvement with the cheerleader lawsuit. He’s known for having created the “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” marketing slogan, a catch-phrase that, in addition to being a de facto subtweet of University of Illinois athletics, has been widely mocked (deservedly so) by conventional journalists and social media users alike.

It’s surprising that the school hasn’t dismissed the marketing mantra, given how whenever they’ve staged major sporting events within the city, attendance says otherwise. These are of course more trivial matters, as what’s going on with this lawsuit is much more serious.

Polisky’s hiring seems like it’s just a continuation of an old white boy network.

Had the school gone in a different direction, hiring one of the other three finalists, the choice would have been more in step with life in 2021.

For a lot more on all of this, and a strong take that covers the major social issues involved, go to this link at SB Nation’s Inside NU. However, we must warn you that the piece cites Julie Di Caro, someone with pretty much no credibility, and in doing so, it weakens the overall credibility of the piece.

Will the uproar against Polisky be enough to make the school reverse course on their decision to hire him? Who knows, but right now the optics are terrible.

Plus, as we just saw with the creation and then quick demise of the European Super League, when the public is strongly against a major endeavor in sports big business, it can force the decision makers involved to then change their minds.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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