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Northwestern faces multiple lawsuits in aftermath of hazing allegations

Following the firing of two head coaches, legal fallout has now begun.

Northwestern v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

After multiple allegations of sexual hazing inside Northwestern’s football program were reported and confirmed by investigator Maggie Hickey, several lawsuits are imminent against the broader university and a myriad of athletic programs.

On Monday morning, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and the law firm Levin & Perconti announced that former Northwestern student-athletes have retained the duo as council to bring a lawsuit against NU. In a press release, the lawyers say that they have uncovered “a vast array of incidents of abuse in the Northwestern Football Program.” In their discovery, the lawyers claim that one of the former student-athletes was 17 years old — considered a minor — when he arrived on campus. For context, Crump represented student-athletes in abuse cases against Michigan State University and Ohio State University.

The lawyers said that they expect more student-athletes to join the suit and expand into other programs across collegiate athletics. As of now, the suit, which will be filed in the “reasonable near future,” stands at more than 15 former Northwestern student-athletes and includes former Wildcat players from football, baseball and softball.

“It involved scores of athletes over a long period of time in a very public form,” said Steve Levin about Northwestern’s hazing in a Wednesday morning press conference.

Regarding softball, Crump mentioned that team culture “seems to have been as toxic as the football program,” and that he believes more details will be revealed.

Former Northwestern football players Lloyd Yates (2015-17), Warren Long (2013-17), Tom Carnifax (2016-19) and Simba Short (2015-16), who are represented by Crump, were in attendance at the presser and spoke to the media.

“The university and the football program has let us down. That’s why we’re here today,” Yates said. Carnifax added that he “spent the last four years hating myself” because of what he experienced at Northwestern.

Crump concluded his press conference by saying, “Northwestern, you can be the example here.”

Furthermore, two lawsuits — the latter of which is expected Wednesday — will be filed by former Northwestern football players, who remain anonymous. The players claim they were victims of hazing across their years of playing: 2018-22.

Both suits will be filed in Cook County by Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C, named the university, President Michael Schill, former President Morton Schapiro, the Board of Trustees, Athletic Director Derrick Gragg and former head coach Pat Fitzgerald as defendants in the lawsuit; meanwhile, the suit to be filed Wednesday also named former Athletic Director Jim Phillips as a defendant. All defendants were sued in their official capacity, meaning that Northwestern, not the individual defendants, would be liable for damages and have to pay the restitution.

In the complaint already filed with the court, a plaintiff alleges that Fitzgerald “took part in the harassment, hazing, bullying, assault, and/or the abuse of athletes.” The complaint states that the plaintiff is seeking over $50,000 in damages.

In a Wednesday press conference, attorney Patrick Salvi Jr. claimed that there are troubling allegations inside the Northwestern baseball, softball, volleyball and cheerleading programs as well as football. In particular, Salvi shared that hazing inside NU volleyball “appears to have led to the cancellation of a game.”

Further, the lawyers mentioned that ArentFox Schiff, the external firm hired by Northwestern, has a “close relationship” with the school’s general counsel office, and demanded the full details of Hickey’s investigation be shared.

“It’s not just one program. It’s not just one coach,” attorney Parker Stinar said.

In addition to lawsuits on behalf of former Northwestern student-athletes, Fitzgerald has engaged in simultaneous legal action. The former head coach has retained attorney Dan Webb “to take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law.”

Webb told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg that Fitzgerald was fired for cause, meaning that Northwestern would not have to pay out the $42 million remaining on his contract. Webb says that there were major breaches of contract by NU towards the former ‘Cats’ head coach, and that he is evaluating possible litigation.

“We look forward to defending Coach Fitzgerald and taking all steps to protect his legal rights, name, and reputation,” Webb said in a statement on Tuesday.

Stay tuned to Inside NU for updates regarding additional developments.