Mike Polisky Resigns as Northwestern AD Amid Former Cheerleader's Lawsuit

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIMay 13, 2021

EVANSTON, II - NOVEMBER 12:  The Northwestern Wildcats logo on the floor during a college basketball game against the American University Eagles at the Welsh-Ryan Arena on November 12, 2018 in Evanston, Illinois.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
Mitchell Layton

Northwestern athletic director Mike Polisky announced his resignation Wednesday following protests and pushback from the university community following his hire amid a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Northwestern cheerleader Hayden Richardson.

Polisky, who was promoted from his role as Northwestern's deputy athletic director of external affairs on May 3, is one of the defendants named in Richardson's lawsuit.

Drew Schott, sports editor for the Daily Northwestern, provided more information on the lawsuit after Polisky's promotion became official:

"Richardson alleges NU did not properly handle complaints she and other cheerleaders raised around sexual harassment. In the lawsuit, Richardson said Polisky accused her of 'fabricating evidence' and did not allow her to meet with Phillips.
"Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune reported that while 'some on the search committee urged caution and some were against hiring Polisky' because of the lawsuit, others favored him because of his role in helping Phillips turn Northwestern's athletic department into one of the best in the nation."

Vi Nguyen of NBC Chicago also added more information:

"Back in February, Hayden Richardson filed a federal lawsuit against the university, Polisky and three other administrators. She alleged she was sexually harassed and exploited at school events and brought her complaints to school officials but they did not take her complaints seriously."

Richardson said: "I filed it because I can't allow other individuals and women that come after me to be subjected to the same thing."

Northwestern filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, with university president Morton Owen Schapiro stating in a letter addressed to the NU community that "there is no information to suggest that Mike engaged in any conduct that is a violation of policy" upon the initial inquiry portion of an independent investigation.

Former cheer coach Pam Bonnevier, who was also named in the lawsuit, stopped working for NU in October 2020.

Polisky's hire elicited backlash from the Northwestern community.

Per Yunkyo Kim and Jacob Fulton of the Daily Northwestern, six university professors penned an open letter to Provost Kathleen Hagerty criticizing the move, with History Prof. Amy Stanley notably saying the hire was a "slap in the face."

According to Kim and Sophia Scanlan of the Daily Northwestern, former NU cheerleader Erika Carter started a petition with hundreds of signatures demanding an independent investigation into Polisky's Northwestern tenure.

Last Saturday, over 200 members of the Northwestern community protested in front of Schapiro's house, according to Kim and Nick Francis of the Daily Northwestern.

Polisky has his backers, including Darren Rovell of the Action Network and Teddy Greenstein of PointsBet:

Darren Rovell @darrenrovell

A long list of the prestigious athletes, alumni and executives at Northwestern have written a letter to the Board of Trustees in support of their new athletic director Mike Polisky. <br><br>Disclosure: I have signed the letter. pic.twitter.com/0bJmZcheGj

Teddy Greenstein @TeddyGreenstein

I'd like to sign as well in support of Mike Polisky. Does a tweet count? https://t.co/mBtIbFxVQs

Others in the media criticized the hire, including Stewart Mandel of The Athletic and Kevin B. Blackistone of the Washington Post:

Stewart Mandel @slmandel

Northwestern's AD search:<br><br>-- Took 4 months<br>-- Promoted someone named as a defendant in a cheerleader's discrimination lawsuit.<br>-- No introductory press conference<br>-- Mass student protest.<br>-- Resigns.<br><br>Now, a linguistics professor is temporarily running a B1G athletic department.

Stewart Mandel @slmandel

One other note: Kudos to the student media at @DailyNU_Sports and @insidenu who held the school accountable. @Lassimak in particular with her reporting.

"But I do know this: The hiring was insulting to Richardson and her former teammates who corroborated her claims," Blackistone wrote.

"It was embarrassing to alumni such as me who, like proud alums of any school anywhere, have developed a fanaticism for our school that we express most fervently by cheering for its teams.
"It was infuriating to faculty, from whose ranks six women wrote an open letter of protest to provost Kathleen Hagerty on Wednesday.
"And it was not surprising."

Polisky had served as Northwestern's deputy athletic director of external affairs since 2010 before his promotion.

Northwestern linguistics professor Robert Gundlach, who serves as the university's faculty athletics representative to the Big Ten conference as well as the NCAA, will be serving as the school's interim AD.

The school's athletic director search committee recommended four people for the job, per Schott.

The other three candidates were former Northwestern basketball player and former New York Knicks executive Anucha Browne, Duke senior deputy director of athletics/administration of legal affairs Nina King and Northwestern deputy athletic director for administration and policy Janna Blais, who was the school's interim AD before Polisky's hire.

Polisky was hired to replace James J. Phillips, who served as Northwestern's AD from 2008 to 2020 before leaving last December to become the ACC's new commissioner.