CHICAGO (AP) — The hazing scandal at Northwestern University has expanded to include a volleyball player who on Monday became the first athlete to sue the university over allegations she was retaliated against for reporting mistreatment and a new lawsuit from former Northwestern quarterback Lloyd Yates.
“This shows that it’s not just about men,” said Parker Stinar, one of her lawyers. «It’s not just the soccer players.»
The private school in Evanston, Illinois, is facing multiple lawsuits, including from Yates, alleging hazing that includes sexual abuse.
“This is the first in a series of lawsuits,” civil rights lawyer Ben Crump said, adding that he plans to file more than 30 in the coming weeks.
The scandal at the Big Ten school centers on an issue that seems to extend well beyond sports, even if sports often grab the headlines. While major college sports programs have become multimillion-dollar, ritual hazing seems to remain a troublesome tradition within them.
Speaking at a news conference Monday, Crump said the Yates case is the first with an identified plaintiff and includes comments from other identified players.
“It’s a big problem when these young people have the courage to stand up and refuse to be victimized anymore, refuse to have their voices silenced,” Crump said.
Crump called this «Me Too» moment of college sports.
Football coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired after a university investigation found allegations of hazing by 11 current or former players, including «forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a demeaning nature,» school president Michael Schill said. An earlier lawsuit accuses Fitzgerald of enabling a culture of racism, including forcing players of color to cut their hair and behave differently 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 in February of that year, despite following the team’s guidelines. Despite this, she says she was informed by Northwestern volleyball coach Shane Davis and an assistant coach of hers that she would have to undergo «punishment» for violating the guidelines. A day later, on March 2, 2021, the coaches allowed the volleyball team captains to choose the punishment: they forced her to perform «suicides» in the gym while she dropped to the ground every time she reached a line on the court. As she did this, the lawsuit says, the volleyball coaching staff, team members and coaches watched.
Campus police learned of the incident, as did the athletic department, the lawsuit says. Jane Doe says that she was isolated from the team and Davis forced her to write an apology letter to the coaches. The lawsuit also says the player met with athletic director Derrick Gragg to discuss the culture of the volleyball program, but he «did nothing in response» to his concerns.
Davis did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Monday morning. Messages were also left with Gragg and a spokesman for the athletic department.
The school announced in December 2021 that it had signed Davis to a multi-year contract extension. A year later, in December 2022, the player withdrew medically from the sport.
Northwestern spokesman Jon Yates confirmed that the anonymous student made an allegation of hazing in March 2021. Jon Yates said that after suspending the coaching staff during an investigation, which confirmed hazing took place, two volleyball games were canceled and mandatory anti-hazing training was implemented.
«Although this incident predates President Schill’s and Athletic Director Gragg’s tenure at the University, they are both taking it seriously,» Jon Yates said. «Dr. Gragg met with the student at her request last year and, as President Schill wrote in a message to the northwestern communityThe University is working to ensure that we have proper accountability for our athletic department.”
The lawsuit was filed in Cook County, Illinois, by the Chicago-based law firm Salvi and names Davis and Gragg as defendants, as well as the university, its current and former presidents, and the board of trustees. The lawsuit also names Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner James J. Phillips, who was Northwestern’s athletic director until 2021. Phillips, who has been named as a defendant in two other lawsuits, has He said he never «forgave or tolerated inappropriate conduct.» against athletes while he was Northwestern’s director of athletics.
Crump planned to announce another lawsuit against Northwestern over allegations of hazing on its sports shows, with the latest lawsuit being touted as containing «damning new details» of hazing and sexual abuse on its football show.
Fitzgerald, who managed Northwestern for 17 seasons and was a star linebacker for the Wildcats, has maintained that he was unaware of the hazing. Fitzgerald said after he was fired that he was working with his agent, Bryan Harlan, and his attorney, Dan Webb, to «protect my rights under the law.»
He hazing accusations have expanded beyond the school’s soccer program, as attorneys said last week that male and female athletes reported misconduct within their baseball and softball programs. They also suggested that sexual abuse and racial profiling within the football program was so widespread that coaches knew it was happening.
Northwest has been added to a long list of US colleges face an athletics scandal and eventually join the trend of making large payouts following allegations of sexual abuse.