A food allergy dad got the ball rolling with a phone call and one request: could Northwestern consider having a nut-free game so that his son could attend a game? Northwestern decided to not only grant this one request, but to do something that hasn’t been attempted by a college athletics program to date: go peanut and tree nut free for many games in multiple sports during the year, offering students and fans with nut allergies plenty of opportunities to attend a game and cheer on the Wildcats.
To learn more about what it took to go nut-free at Northwestern, FARE interviewed Mike Polisky, Deputy Director of Athletics – External Affairs at Northwestern Athletics. Download this flyer to view the game schedule..
1. Why did Northwestern decide to go “all in” this season?
It all started with a simple phone call last year. We were contacted by the father of a Northwestern student who is affected by these types of allergies. The student is a big sports fan, like so many, but he wouldn’t be able to attend a game at Ryan Field or Welsh-Ryan Arena because of those allergy concerns. The father wanted to know if there was a way for us to make that happen for his son. After doing our research and coming to a better understanding of the impact of tree nut and peanut allergies on tens of thousands of people who cannot participate, it made sense to take the next step.
We decided to break up our seasons to create more opportunities for families to attend Northwestern games in a safe environment. Ryan Field will be completely peanut and tree nut free for three football games and Welsh-Ryan Arena will be that same way for close to 30 events leading up to the Big Ten opener for the men’s basketball team.
2. What changes needed to be made in order to accommodate the change?
We had to undergo a systemic change from the top down in order to change the way we do things on game day. From Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, to Vice President for Athletics and Recreation, Jim Phillips, to our ushers and security personnel, to our concessionaire partner, Sodexo, everyone needed to be fully on board with this idea, and they have been. Everyone needed to accept responsibility and support one another, and to this point, it’s been fantastic.
3. What were some major challenges in going nut-free?
I think that the biggest challenge was in understanding the layers involved. The logistics are so broad; you have to think about the product you have in place already, the aggressive cleaning measures that need to be done and the unseen areas affected like cooking oil and candies. It’s been important for us to understand all of the places that people are impacted.
4. What has the feedback been like from fans and the community?
The response we’ve seen and heard has been incredibly positive. After we decided to operate peanut and tree-nut free for one football game last fall, we received overwhelming support from all across the country. Even people who weren’t able to be in Evanston that day were thanking us for raising awareness on a national level. That encouragement only strengthened our resolve to create increased opportunities and inspired us to do even more.
5. Any advice for other schools or teams that may add nut-free games?
We’re able to help people attend a game who otherwise may not be able to do so because of severe peanut and tree nut allergies. It’s something that so many people take for granted, and if your team is in a position to provide a memorable experience, why wouldn’t you?
Northwestern is offering football and basketball tickets for their nut free games at a 15 percent discount! Northwestern also will not serve peanuts at Welsh-Ryan Arena for 10 men’s and six women’s basketball games, all 18 home volleyball matches and three wrestling events. For complete schedules or to order online, visit NUsports.com or Download this flyer.