By Adam Hoge-
EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) — Pat Fitzgerald was on vacation with his family when he received an e-mail from Northwestern director of football operations Cody Cejda.
“Coach, I sent out a tweet accidentally on your account. I apologize for that, just FYI,” the e-mail read, according to Fitzgerald who was paraphrasing.
The Northwestern head coach asked Cejda what the tweet said.
‘‘Officially on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon. There’s finally an NBA player who plays hard and says the right things off the court,’’ the tweet read.
Fitz replied: “OK, well don’t worry about it. Thanks man, have a great day.”
Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy.
“48 hours later, I’m a racist,” Fitzgerald said at a panel discussion at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism Wednesday.
The NU head coach was clearly upset with the allegations that followed. Some called him racist, even though there was no reference to race in the tweet at all. Others were upset because they perceived the tweet as a shot to Derrick Rose, the Bulls point guard who always plays hard and says the right things off the court.
“I think (racism is) an epidemic. I think that’s a disease,” Fitzgerald said. “I think (calling someone racist is) a very strong statement to make about an individual. By anybody making that, I think it’s a defamation of my character. But I am responsible for what goes on and what’s said from me and by me, and if I would have said it I would have taken responsibility for it.”
The problem is, Fitz didn’t say it.
“If I could, I’d sue somebody,” the head coach said. “If I could, I would, but that’s not who I am.”
As for the notion that the tweet was disrespectful to Rose, Fitz was quick to point out how much he supports the city’s professional sports teams.
“There’s no bigger Chicago fan than me. I’m a ridiculous Chicago fan,” he said. “But now, maybe there’s some Chicagoans who think I’m not that way. I can’t control that and I’m not going to worry about that. If that’s what you think, that’s not my fault, that’s your fault, too bad for you. Maybe that’s arrogance, I don’t care. But I know what I believe in, I know what I stand for and I also know who I root for.”
Fitzgerald, a rabid White Sox fan, paused for a second before adding an exclamation point.
“And I’m not a Cub hater,” he said.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.