Northwestern University

Northwestern's ‘rampant' hazing was ‘devastating' for athletes of color, ex-players say

Warren Miles Long, a running back on Northwestern’s football team starting in 2013, said players were put into a culture where sexual violence and hazing was “rampant.” He said new recruits had no sense of whether it was normal or limited to Northwestern


Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said his law firm and other attorneys have received reports of hazing within Northwestern University’s baseball and softball programs, in addition to growing complaints of hazing within the school’s football program, which players described as rampant and devastating.

At a Wednesday news conference, Crump and Chicago attorney Steven Levin said they have not filed a lawsuit yet on behalf of any athletes but represent 15 people and have been in touch with dozens of former athletes. Crump said the majority of those are football players.

Warren Miles Long, a running back on Northwestern’s football team starting in 2013, said players were put into a culture where sexual violence and hazing was “rampant.” He said new recruits had no sense of whether it was normal or limited to Northwestern.

Former Northwestern quarterback Lloyd Yates is among more than 15 men and women who have retained Crump and the Chicago-based Levin & Perconti law to seek damages against the school due to its hazing scandal.

“The abusive culture was especially devastating for many players of color,” Yates, who is Black, said Wednesday at a news conference.

Northwestern has been added to a long list of American universities to face a scandal in athletics and may eventually join the trend of making large payouts following allegations of sexual abuse.

“This is a civil rights issue for me,” said Crump, who said 50 former Northwestern athletes — male and female — have spoken to the law firm. “Because I think these players have the right to be respected and valued and not hazed, intimidated and retaliated.”

A former Wildcats football player filed the first lawsuit against Pat Fitzgerald and members of the school’s leadership Tuesday, seeking damages stemming from a hazing scandal that cost the former football coach his job.

More lawsuits, filed by multiple law firms, are expected to follow from former football and baseball players as well as from student-athletes who played other sports for the private school.

The private, Big Ten institution now has another thing in common with other schools in the conference, including Penn StateMichigan StateOhio StateMichigan and Minnesota, with a scandal tied to sexual abuse.

And, connection may be costly.

Criminal charges are also possible.

Illinois, like nearly all states in recent decades, has criminalized hazing. It is typically a Class A misdemeanor, which can carry up to one year in prison. Under Illinois law, failure of a school official to report hazing is also a crime — a misdemeanor — and can carry a maximum penalty of between six months and a year in prison.

A “hazing prevention” page on Northwestern’s website includes descriptions of Illinois hazing laws.

Yates said every member of team were victims, “no matter what our role was at the time,” and lamented the school and team’s lack of leadership.

“The university and football program let us down and that’s why we are here today,” Yates said, surrounded by some teammates, who have also retained Crump and the Levin & Perconti law firm.

In a letter to Northwestern’s faculty and staff, Schill wrote that an outside firm will be hired to evaluate how the school detects threats to student-athletes’ welfare and to examine the athletics culture in Evanston, Illinois, and its relationship to academics at the prestigious institution.

Northwestern fired Fitzgerald last week after a university investigation found allegations of hazing by 11 current or former players, including “forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature,” Schill wrote.

After the school initially suspended Fitzgerald, The Daily Northwestern published an article including allegations from a former player who described specific instances of hazing and abuse and suggested he may have been aware.

Fitzgerald, who led Northwestern for 17 seasons and was a star linebacker for the Wildcats, has maintained he had no knowledge of the hazing. Fitzgerald said after being fired that he was working with his agent, Bryan Harlan and his lawyer, Dan Webb, to “protect my rights in accordance with the law.”

An emailed statement Tuesday from Fitzgerald’s defense team quoted Webb, as saying, “the complaint has no validity as to Coach Fitzgerald and we will aggressively defend against these allegations with facts and evidence.” Webb, a former U.S. attorney, has been one of the most sought-after private lawyers in the country for decades.

A former Northwestern football player, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe, alleged Tuesday in the Cook County Court in Chicago that Fitzgerald, Northwestern University President Michael Schill, the board of trustees and athletic director Derrick Gragg enabled and concealed sexual misconduct and racial discrimination.

The player, who was on the football team from 2018 to 2022, had his filing submitted by the Chicago-based Salvi Law Firm.

“It wasn’t just confined to one bad actor,” attorney Parker Stinar said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The lawsuit's allegations include an accusation that Fitzgerald enabled 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.”

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