ESPN Staff WriterCovering the Big TenJoined ESPN.com in 2014Graduated at University of Notre Dame
ESPN Senior Writer College football reporter. Joined ESPN.com in 2008. Graduate of Northwestern University. Jul 18, 2023, 9:38 a.m. ET
Former Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald, university president Michael Schill and athletic director Derrick Gragg are listed as defendants in a lawsuit filed Tuesday morning by former Wildcats players who say the program and its leaders were negligent in allowing hazing inside the team’s locker room.
The lawsuit also lists the university, its board of trustees and former president Morton Schapiro as defendants. The player filed anonymously, but the lawsuit says he was a member of the team from 2018 to 2022. His attorneys, Patrick Salvi and Parker Stinar, say they have spoken to other former Northwestern players and expect additional Northwestern football players and athletes from other sports. to join the lawsuit in the coming days and weeks.
Stinar said he and Salvi represent many Northwestern football players and have spoken to about a dozen athletes who have competed at the school in the last 15 years. He said the player who filed the lawsuit on Tuesday was subjected to hazing which included sexual conduct and racial discrimination.
“As a freshman, because freshmen are the most subject to sexual harassment and hazing, it’s just an intimidating process,” says Stinar. “It really makes you lose faith in the program and your coaches. It makes you lose your love for the sport. It makes you feel cheated that you came to this university after recruiters and coaches came to your house and sat down with your parents and promised to be safe and protected. This had a huge impact on this young individual.”
Tuesday’s filing came one day after a separate group of eight former Northwestern players announced they intended to pursue legal action against the school. The athletes were represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Chicago-based law firm Levin & Perconti. They haven’t filed a lawsuit yet but plan to do so, possibly with additional plaintiffs, attorney Steve Levin told ESPN.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that Fitzgerald “participated in the harassment, hazing, intimidation, assault, and/or abuse of athletes,” including the plaintiffs.
Fitzgerald has repeatedly said that he was not aware of hazing in the program or encouraged it.
Northwestern fired Fitzgerald last week, ending his 17-year tenure as head coach, after details of the team’s hazing ritual were revealed in a July 8 story by student newspaper The Daily Northwestern. Last December, the university hired law firm, ArentFox Schiff, to investigate the football program after a player raised concerns at the end of the 2022 season. The player said he wanted to report an “extremely disturbing and heinous hazing situation,” according to an email he sent to the school that recently acquired ESPN.
On July 7, Northwestern released an executive summary of the investigative findings, and suspended Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay as part of several corrective actions. Schell announced the following day that he would consider stronger discipline for Fitzgerald.
On July 10, Schil published a letter announcing Fitzgerald’s dismissal, in which he disclosed that 11 current or former players told investigators ArentFox Schiff that hazing which “included forced participation, nudity, and degrading sexual acts” occurred in a football programme. ball. He said investigators found no credible evidence proving that Fitzgerald knew about the hazing.
Fitzgerald has hired attorneys for a possible wrongful termination lawsuit against the school.
Gragg, who took over as Northwestern’s athletic director in June 2021, has not made a public comment since Fitzgerald was fired. He published a statement when Fitzgerald was initially suspended on July 7 saying: “Northwestern Athletics prides itself on providing a world-class student-athlete experience, which includes a safe and respectful environment for all of our students, coaches and staff. We appreciate the courage of individuals who come forward to made us aware of this issue, and we vow to do our part to create a more positive environment going forward.”
Northwestern has not shared a copy of the full investigator’s report with the public. Stinar said he anticipates a legal battle to determine whether the school, a private university, should share the report’s findings during discovery for their lawsuit.
According to Tuesday’s lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking damages of more than $50,000.