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Northwestern athletic director Mike Polisky resigns amid controversy, protests

·3 min read

Mike Polisky has resigned as Northwestern’s athletic director only nine days after officially landing the job.

Polisky, an employee of Northwestern’s athletic department since 2010, was promoted to athletic director on May 3. Polisky was slated to succeed Jim Phillips, who left Northwestern to become the commissioner of the ACC.

But the decision from the university was the source of much controversy on campus — including student-led protests — as Polisky was one of four individuals named in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in January by a former Northwestern cheerleader. Before his promotion, Polisky was NU’s deputy athletic director.

In a statement announcing his decision to step down and leave Northwestern altogether, Polisky said he does “not want to be a distraction.”

“Over the last 10 days, it has become clear to me that the current challenges will not allow me to effectively lead our department, especially during these unsettling times in college athletics. My love and respect for Northwestern and for our student-athletes, coaches and staff, is greater than my own desire to lead the department,” Polisky said.

“I do not want to be a distraction to our incredible men and women as they pursue a collective goal — to help our student-athletes become the best they can be. While my family and I are disappointed, I move forward knowing this is the right decision.”

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said he “understands and respects” Polisky’s decision.

“I truly appreciate all Mike has done for the university,” Schapiro said.

Schapiro has appointed Robert Gundlach, Northwestern’s faculty athletics representative for the NCAA and Big Ten who also works as a linguistics professor, as the university’s interim athletic director. Schapiro said he will share information on the university’s process for hiring its next athletic director “in the coming months.”

“I thank the coaches, staff and student-athletes for their patience and commitment to the university,” Schapiro said. “I believe in you and support you, and I’m so proud to be at a university that is a leader in academics and athletics.”

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 21: Student fans wave a Northwestern flag during a game between the Northwestern Wildcats
and the Michigan State Spartans at Ryan Field on September 21, 2019 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Northwestern athletic director Mike Polisky has resigned after less than two weeks on the job. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Mike Polisky named in harassment lawsuit

Polisky was one of four defendants who, along with Northwestern itself, was named in a lawsuit filed by former NU cheerleader Hayden Richardson.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Richardson’s lawsuit claimed that NU cheerleaders “were being presented as sex objects to titillate the men that funded the majority of Northwestern’s athletics programs.” In the lawsuit, Richardson said she was groped and touched by older men and was on the receiving end of “sexually charged comments” about her appearance.

In the complaint, Richardson alleged that Polisky dismissed her concerns. Polisky was also criticized by Black cheerleaders who said he did not take complaints of racial discrimination seriously.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Polisky is one of four defendants along with the university in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in January by former cheerleader Hayden Richardson, whose complaint said Polisky dismissed her claims — among them that female cheerleaders were required to mingle with donors and that she was groped by drunken fans and alumni — and accused her of fabricating evidence. Polisky also has been criticized by Black cheerleaders who said he did not take seriously their complaints of racial discrimination.

Despite the ongoing lawsuit, Polisky was promoted to athletic director May 3 — more than five months after Phillips was announced as the next ACC commissioner (he officially began his term in February).

The decision was very unpopular to some, including six female NU faculty members who wrote a letter to university leadership asking for an investigation into the hiring process. Later, there was a protest that culminated in a walk from campus to Schapiro’s home in Evanston.

Others, however, backed Polisky’s hire. Earlier Wednesday, a group of prominent alumni, faculty, athletes and donors sent a letter to the NU Board of Trustees supporting Polisky. Hours later, though, Polisky had officially tendered his resignation.

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