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Ex-Northwestern football player says teammates shaved racist symbol for Cinco de Mayo on his head

Ex-football player Ramon Diaz said at a press conference that he trained thousands of hours “to then become a center of, over and over, forms of bigotry and racism.”
Former Northwestern University football player Ramon Diaz at his lawyers' office in Chicago on Aug. 2, 2023.
Former Northwestern University football player Ramon Diaz at his lawyers' office in Chicago on Wednesday.Claire Savage / AP

A Latino ex-football player alleges he was just 17 when upperclassmen on Northwestern University’s team shaved a racist symbol for Cinco de Mayo on the back of his head while the other members watched.

“It’s hard to understand why someone would use that symbol Cinco de Mayo. I’ve not seen a football game in over 10 years because of what happened to me,” Ramon Diaz, 36, said at a press conference Wednesday. He said he trained thousands of hours “to then become a center of, over and over, forms of bigotry and racism.”

He is the latest to take legal action after it was revealed that Northwestern's athletic department allegedly fostered a racist and sexually abusive environment.

Diaz, who filed the lawsuit Wednesday, played on the team from 2005 to 2008. He said he was the only Latino offensive lineman at the school at the time.

“The holiday itself has a significant meaning to me and my family and then the Latino community at large ... I was mocked and ridiculed," Diaz told The Associated Press, referring to Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican historical holiday on May 5th that is also celebrated in the United States. Diaz told ESPN the teammates shaved 05/05 on his head. 

The Daily Northwestern, the university’s student paper, first reported in July that the football team was hazing its members. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired after 17 seasons after the university president said an investigation showed the hazing was widespread and Fitzgerald should have known what was happening. Since then, football players on the team have come out to share how the environment caused emotional and psychological distress to players of color.

Fitzgerald has maintained he had no knowledge of the hazing. A statement from his lawyers called the sweeping allegations “imprecise,” according to the AP.

Northwestern announced Tuesday that it had hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to lead an independent investigation into its athletics department following the allegations of a racially hostile and sexually abusive environment.

“Hazing has absolutely no place at Northwestern. Period,” Northwestern President Michael Schill said.

The university also announced Wednesday that it was investigating Matt MacPherson, who is still listed as the head coach and who, former players claim, allegedly witnessed the hazing firsthand but did nothing to stop it.

Diaz told the AP that racist comments by coaches and athletes encouraged other athletes to pick on and target the players of color on the team.

Diaz said that conditions were even worse for his friend, a Black football player. He recalled a teammate telling his friend to “do that monkey dance you do.” His account aligns with other former players, including former quarterback Lloyd Yates, who concurred that the treatment was especially bad for players of color.

Diaz said he remembered Bret Ingalls, the Wildcats’ offensive line coach at the time, telling him: “I know you grew up on dirt floors, but here we try to keep things clean,” and “Ramon, you can get a job easily in summer mowing the lawn or painting houses.”

Ingalls said in a written statement to AP News that these were “baseless accusations.”

Diaz told ESPN he was motivated to speak out after seeing a letter circulated online that was attributed to “the ENTIRE Northwestern Football Team,” which defended Fitzgerald and vehemently denied all the accusations of abuse and racism.

The psychological stress of the environment even caused him to attempt suicide, Diaz said at the press conference.

Diaz, who is now a licensed clinical therapist and is pursuing a doctorate in neuropsychology, said he “cannot imagine” what he would do if forced nudity or sexual abuse happened to one of his three children, the AP reported, but he’s not surprised that younger players have reported similar incidents.

Former player Lloyd Yates told reporters in July at a press conference with other former players that "the university and the football program has let us down ... We were thrown into a culture where physical, emotional and sexual abuse was normalized,” he said.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit for additional resources.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. The hotline, run by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), can put you in contact with your local rape crisis center. You can also access RAINN’s online chat service at