Four sources close to the Northwestern volleyball program — including three recent former players — confirmed that a hazing incident occurred in March 2021, as detailed in a lawsuit filed Monday morning on behalf of a former Northwestern volleyball player. All four also shared that head coach Shane Davis was not around the team well after the hazing incident.
Northwestern never publicly disclosed any information about the hazing or Davis’ time away from the team — leaving viewers to learn of Davis not being there only by watching matches.
Moreover, two players said that the head coach had to sign a document indicating his involvement in the hazing. Inside NU reached out to the university for comment regarding Davis’ absence and if the coach was required to sign a document, but had not heard back at the time of publishing.
Update: In a statement provided to Inside NU following the publication of this article, Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates confirmed that Davis and the rest of NU’s coaching staff were suspended following the hazing incident. Yates also indicated that AD Derrick Gragg met with the plaintiff “last year.”
The lawsuit, filed by Patrick Salvi II and Parker Stinar, alleges that Davis was “suspended” for a “period of time during the hazing investigation.” While sources differed as to whether the coach was technically suspended or put on probation, all confirmed to Inside NU that Davis’ time away extended beyond the team’s postponed games, lasting through the team’s Senior Night against Minnesota on March 27, 2021. Two said that Davis was not with the team through the end of the spring 2021 season.
In the days after the hazing event, Northwestern’s March 12-13, 2021 matches at Wisconsin were postponed due to “a pause in Northwestern team activities,” according to a release at the time. All former players shared that these games were canceled due to the team’s hazing investigation. In a statement to ESPN, university spokesperson Jon Yates wrote that “appropriate disciplinary action was taken” after the event and that NU “cancelled two games and implemented mandatory anti-hazing training.”
The Wildcats also did not play March 20-21, 2021 at Indiana “as Northwestern safely progresses through return-to-play protocols,” a joint statement revealed from both programs. Yet, two former players indicated that such postponements were, in part, due to the ongoing hazing investigation — not COVID-19 protocols.
In the lawsuit filed, the lawyers allege that the player was “forced to run suicides in the gymnasium while diving to the floor each time she reached a line on the court” as a result of “allegedly” violating the team’s COVID-19 protocols; the player consequently “suffered physical injuries” that “required medical attention.” Moreover, the lawsuit posits that a hazing investigation was launched the day subsequent to the incident.
Three sources corroborated to Inside NU that a player was forced to run due to breaking team COVID-19 policy, as well as that the player physically suffered as a result. In particular, two shared that the player ran until she vomited, while one added that the player “bled all over the floor.”
The plaintiff claims that Davis and assistant coach Kristen Kelsay, who is currently the associate head coach at Minnesota, “permitted” Northwestern’s team captains to “pick” the punishment for the player. Two former players confirmed that the punishment was player-led.
Regarding broader coaching practices, the lawyers allege that players “would at times be required to run in front of the team” and that Davis “permitted and encouraged” NU captains to lead punishments. Former players shared similar experiences with Inside NU.
“It was kind of a general understanding of you want the captains-led thing, because Davis would just make you run even more than what the captains would do,” one player said. About Davis’ leadership style, the player added, “It was always kind of a weird push-pull of, do you want us to be a player-led team, or do you want to handle this?”
Beyond making players run as discipline, the lawsuit suggests that Davis had a practice called “Coach-on-one” in which he was “blasting volleyballs at the player and across the gymnasium while that player had to repeatedly run and hit the ball,” in front of the “entire” team. One former player directly confirmed this punitive behavior.
“He would throw [volleyballs] so far that you had no chance of getting it, but you still kind of had to kind of throw and fling your body at it. Then, he’d throw another one in the other direction; you had to go get it,” the player shared. “I was like, ‘Okay, that’s a little bit much.’”
The lawyers also allege that the plaintiff met with Gragg during the 2021-22 academic year “concerning the culture of Northwestern’s volleyball program.” A player that Inside NU spoke to shared that she also emailed Davis — and included Gragg in the email — after the 2022 season about this incident and her other complaints surrounding the state of the program.
The lawsuit mentions that a “culture meeting” was held during the 2022-23 academic year following “multiple complaints” against Davis, but that the school “took no actions.”
Additionally, multiple former players described Davis as a coach who was withdrawn, with two sharing that the coach was particularly less willing to punish after this hazing incident and investigation.
“Even though Davis wasn’t there, it wasn’t like the team was missing anything offensive coordinator-wise,” a player said about the coach’s absence during the spring of 2021.
“He never made practice plans,” another shared. “He would be in the corner on his phone during practice. During games, if he did call timeout, he would look for our assistant coaches’ confirmation.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff claims that Davis “enabled a culture of racism.” One former player said that Davis made racist comments about players’ hair “throughout the years.” However, no other source that Inside NU spoke to mentioned racism within the program or from Davis.
The plaintiff played at NU from 2019-23 and claims to have been the victim of this hazing incident. This lawsuit marked the first from a former Northwestern athlete against a program other than football, as well as the first from a female sport, since President Michael Schill released an executive summary regarding ArentFox Schiff’s investigation of hazing within Northwestern football on July 7.
In the lawsuit, the defendants named were Northwestern; Davis; Northwestern Presidents Morton Shapiro and Schill; the school’s board of trustees; and Athletic Directors Jim Phillips and Derrick Gragg. At the time of the incident, Phillips had already taken over as ACC Commissioner, while Gragg was yet to have been hired.
NU’s acting athletic director in March 2021 was Janna Blais, who was not listed as a defendant but “knew and/or should have known about the hazing incident,” according to the lawsuit.