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As questions remain surrounding the firing of Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald over an alleged history of hazing within the program, Wildcats head baseball coach Jim Foster is also caught up in a scandal of his own. The 51-year-old was found to have “engaged in bullying and abusive behavior” after an internal investigation.
Allegations paint a picture of toxicity within the culture that Foster led prior to and during the 2023 season, his first with the program. It is important to note that Northwestern’s human resources investigation did not find enough evidence to corroborate all of the allegations. However, sources with knowledge of the situation say that the university did not speak with players on the team.
HR’s investigation, which was reviewed by The Chicago Tribune, found evidence of bullying and abuse. It does not go into great detail about the complaints against Foster. It does go on to conclude that Foster “made an inappropriate comment regarding a female staff member, and spoke negatively about his staff to other staff members.”
Sources told 670 The Score that Foster said that a female staffer could not be on the field because he did not want players “staring at her ass.” He allegedly added that she should be in the press box taking notes. The staffer later distanced herself from the program.
Northwestern’s HR document says that the results were shared with leaders in the Department of Athletics and Recreation “to take appropriate remedial action.” It is unclear what action, if any, came as result of the findings.
Meanwhile, the baseball program has seen roughly 16 players enter the transfer portal since the end of the season. That number may increase in coming weeks.
Northwestern baseball players allege injury concerns.
Players, who spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation, said that Foster discouraged players from seeking medical attention for injuries. They also said that he pressured injured athletes to rush back in fear that they’d lose their spot on the team.
Northwestern pitchers were at the center of the injury discussion. One particular player was dealing with an elbow injury and allegedly pushed too hard to return because of Foster’s pressure. He later needed Tommy John surgery.
Sources also told 670 The Score that Foster pushed multiple players to quit if they did not return from injury sooner than expected. Foster denies ever dissuading players from getting medical help.
Players claim Foster was abusive.
One Northwestern athlete detailed a particular practice to 670 The Score. He alleges that Foster subjected him to a punishment run for close to a full 180-minute practice last fall.
In addition, according to sources that spoke with Inside NU, Foster made no effort to get to know his players. He was “often virtually absent” at practices, if not entirely absent during preseason workouts.
Foster incorrectly pronounced his players’ names during press conferences and interviews. His mispronunciations happened multiple months into the season.
Foster told a senior — in front of his family — that “sometimes your natural talent can only take you so far” at the year-end banquet. Other speeches were brief and seemed “disingenuous.”
One Black player on the team did not feel comfortable wearing a chain or durag on the field. Another source told 670 The Score that Foster referred to an Asian camper as “the Chinese kid” even though he knew that he was not Chinese.
Foster called the allegations of racism “ridiculous.”
Additional incidents surrounding Foster’s “bullying and abusive behavior” toward players have been detailed by 670 The Score, Inside NU, and The Chicago Tribune. They include gaslighting and a lack of accountability, among other things.
Foster’s relationship with his staff is also in question.
An HR complaint was filed against Foster in November. It led the university to monitor him more closely, but players say that the toxic culture did not stop.
A major reason for the filing stemmed from Foster’s volatile relationship with the assistant coaches. The Chicago Tribune noted that there were times that Foster would go into “expletive-laced tirades directed at his staff” which coincided to the HR findings of “bullying and abusive behavior.”
Hitting coach and recruiting coordinator Dusty Napoleon left before the first game of the year. He had been with Northwestern since 2015.
Pitching coach Jon Strauss and operations director Chris Beacom also left the program. Their departure was before the Wildcats even returned from their opening weekend road trip.
Inside NU described one particular incident:
Against Saint Louis in March, an opposing player hit a ball that got through the infield. According to a player, Foster approached an assistant coach, who was in charge of defensive positioning, after the inning, and asked him why the shortstop was in that specific spot on the play. The assistant started to explain his reasoning, but Foster responded by getting in his face and yelling, “You shut the f— up!” repeatedly until the assistant walked away.
That player told the publication that he has “never seen an adult speak to another adult in that disrespectful of a manner.”
Jim Foster pushed back on the reporting.
When 670 The Score spoke with Foster, he described the reporting as “a hit piece.”
The publication spoke to nine sources. Their sources are comprised of former coaches, current and former players, and others close to the program.
As for the allegations made by other coaches, Foster suggested that they wanted his job. He also took aim at the players.
Maybe the players aren’t good enough and are just making excuses or are disgruntled. Maybe it’s how they’re raised, could be any of that stuff.— Jim Foster, via 670 The Score
Meanwhile, a former Northwestern baseball player said that support for Foster would be hard to find. His comment was made after 670 The Score’s initial reporting.
Unlike the situation with [Pat Fitzgerald], you without a doubt will not be seeing any support for him being signed off on by our team, which speaks volumes.— A former Northwestern athlete transferring out of the program, via Inside NU
This is not the first time that Foster has been involved with a concerning situation. He served as the head coach at Rhode Island from 2006 to 2014. In October 2011, a player on his team died following an outdoor strength and conditioning workout. The family later settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the university for $1.45 million.
Northwestern went 10-40 in 2023. The Wildcats won just four of 24 games during Big Ten play.
Beyond the abuse and toxicity, players claim that from a developmental standpoint, none of them got better because of Foster’s coaching. Those who did improve were able to do so in spite of Foster’s coaching, they say.