ANDREW SELIGMAN, MIKE HOUSEHOLDER and LARRY LAGE (Associated Press)
CHICAGO (FloridaToday.news) — The hazing scandal at Northwestern University has expanded with a volleyball player who on Monday became the first female athlete to sue the university over allegations that she was retaliated against for reporting abuse, and a new lawsuit by former Northwestern University quarterback Lloyd Yates.
“It shows that it’s not just about men,” said Parker Stinar, one of her lawyers. “It’s not just football players.
A private school in Evanston, Illinois is facing multiple lawsuits, including on behalf of Yates, alleging hazing by teammates, including sexual assault. The 52-page complaint also alleges that coaches made racist comments to players of color.
“This is the first in a series of lawsuits,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump said, adding that he plans to file more than 30 lawsuits in the coming weeks involving athletes from “various sports programs and even mascots.”
He said it was “too early to tell” whether the cases would be combined into a class action lawsuit. “We are still trying to look at various legal aspects,” he said.
The scandal at the G-10 school centers on an issue that seems to go way beyond sports, even if sports often make headlines. While major college sports have grown into multi-million dollar programs, ritual hazing seems to remain a problematic tradition.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Crump said the Yeats case is the first to feature a plaintiff and includes comments from other named players.
“It’s really a big deal when these young people have the courage to take a stand and refuse to be victims anymore, refuse to have their voices silenced,” Crump said.
Crump called this college sports moment “Me Too”.
“I want justice for all the victims of this terrible hazing,” Yates said. “I want closure for myself and the hundreds of other Northwest footballers who have suffered silently. Too often, many of us have blamed ourselves for things that were out of our control. Finally, I want to protect future players.”
Former football coach Pat Fitzgerald has been fired after a university investigation uncovered allegations of hazing by 11 current or former players, including “forced participation, nudity and degrading sexual activity,” school president Michael Shill said in a statement. In a previous lawsuit, Fitzgerald is accused of creating a culture of racism, including forcing players of color to cut their hair and behave differently in order to be more in line with the “Wildcat Way”.
The volleyball player, identified in Monday’s lawsuit as Jane Doe, says she was physically harmed to the point of requiring medical attention during a hazing incident in early 2021.
According to the lawsuit, Jane Doe contracted COVID-19 in February of that year despite following the team’s COVID recommendations. Despite this, she said, Northwest volleyball coach Shane Davis and an assistant coach informed her that she would have to face “punishment” for breaking the rules. A day later, on March 2, 2021, the coaches allowed the captains of the volleyball team to choose a punishment: she was forced to commit “suicides” in the gym by diving to the floor every time she reached the line on the court. As the costume says, she was watched by the volleyball coaching staff, team members and coaches.
Campus police were informed of the incident, as was the sports department, the lawsuit says. Jane Doe says she was isolated from the team and Davis forced her to write a letter of apology to the coaches. The lawsuit also says the player met with athletic director Derrick Gregg to discuss the culture of the volleyball program, but he “did nothing in response” to her concerns.
Davis did not immediately respond Monday morning to messages asking for comment.
In December 2021, the school announced that they had signed Davis to a multi-year contract extension. A year later, in December 2022, the player retired from the sport for health reasons.
Northwestern spokesman John Yates confirmed that an unnamed student filed a hazing allegation in March 2021. John Yates said that after the suspension of the coaching staff during an investigation that confirmed hazing, two volleyball matches were canceled and mandatory anti-hazing practices were held.
“While this incident happened before President Schill and Athletic Director Gregg started working at the university, each of them takes it seriously,” said John Yates. “Doctor. Gregg met with the student at her request last year, and as President Shill wrote in a message to the Northwest community, the university is working to ensure that our athletic department is held accountable.”
The lawsuit was filed in Cook County, Illinois by Chicago-based law firm Salvi, and Davis and Gregg, as well as the university, its current and former presidents and board of trustees, were named as defendants. The lawsuit also includes Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner James J. Phillips, who was Northwestern’s athletic director until 2021. Phillips, who was named a defendant in two other lawsuits, said he never “condoned or tolerated inappropriate behavior” towards athletes while he was Northwestern’s director of athletics.
A complaint filed by Lloyd Yates states that much of the hazing was led by a group of players known as the “Shrek Squad”. But he expressed sympathy for them, saying they were also “victims” of a culture that normalized behavior. That is why they are not named in the lawsuit and are not listed as defendants, Crump said.
The complaint alleges that longtime assistant coach Matt McPherson witnessed some bullying and an unknown strength and conditioning coach was sexually assaulted by Wildcats players in front of the entire team and coaching staff in the fall of 2015 or spring of 2016. John Yates said the school was “reviewing” the allegations against McPherson.
Colored players were made to “feel inferior”. The complaint describes one instance in which a white coach allegedly told a black player wearing new headphones in a diner area, “You stole their bats, didn’t you?” It says the coach walked away and laughed.
Fitzgerald, who captained the Northwest for 17 seasons and was a star linebacker for the Wildcats, claimed he knew nothing about hazing. After being fired, Fitzgerald said he worked with his agent Brian Harlan and lawyer Dan Webb to “protect my rights under the law.”
Webb said in a statement Monday that the complaint does not list Fitzgerald as a defendant. He said that Fitzgerald “was not aware of any form of hazing” and “implemented and followed” protocols to ensure that this did not happen, while repeatedly emphasizing that it was forbidden.
Householder reported from Detroit and Lage reported from Allen Park, Michigan.