Former Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald is among those named in a lawsuit filed against the university one week after the school fired Fitzgerald after additional allegations of hazing by players surfaced in the university's student newspaper.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in Cook County, Illinois. Northwestern University, university President Michael Schill and Athletic Director Derrick Gragg were also defendants.
The suit was filed on behalf of an unidentified player, named John Doe, by attorneys Patrick A. Salvi II, Parker Stinar and Adam Pulaski. His attorney says Doe was a member of the Northwestern football team from 2018-22.
An external review indicated that 11 current and former football players acknowledged that hazing has been ongoing within the football program. Northwestern said its investigation found hazing "included forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature, in clear violation of Northwestern policies and values."
"It is alleged that Fitzgerald knew, enabled, and encouraged this behavior and created a culture of abuse within the football program that carried over throughout the athletic department," Doe's attorneys said in a statement. "We intend to hold the defendants, including Fitzgerald, accountable for the alleged actions and seek justice for victims of abuse, hazing, and discrimination. Institutions, athletic departments, and coaches are responsible for creating a safe and supportive environment for student athletes."
Among the allegations, the lawsuit claims the football program has had "longstanding issues involving hazing and bullying that takes on a sexual and/or racist tone." The lawsuit also alleges that members of the football program were forced to take part in illegal sex acts.
On Monday, attorney Ben Crump said he would be representing eight different former student athletes who were allegedly subjected to hazing "including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse."
"Whether the coaches at Northwestern approved or participated in the harassment of these players or not, they are responsible for allowing and enabling a toxic, disgusting, and damaging culture in their programs," Crump said. "Sadly, our research suggests that this kind of abuse of student athletes may be far more common on college campuses than we know, because there is tremendous pressure to keep quiet. It's time for a reckoning to protect young athletes."
The university said it did not have any evidence that Fitzgerald knew about the hazing. But university president Michael Schill said that ultimately, Fitzgerald needed to be held accountable for the alleged incidents.
"The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team," Schill said. "The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing Coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening. Either way, the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others."
Previously, Schill had announced a two-game suspension against Fitzgerald when an initial report by the university was released two weeks ago.
But on July 8, the Daily Northwestern reported additional details about the alleged hazing. One player said Fitzgerald may have known about the hazing. The report also gave disturbing details of the alleged hazing, which included descriptions of sexual abuse of players.
In a statement to ESPN, Fitzgerald said he was "surprised" by his firing. He told the outlet his lawyers will "take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law."
"Attorney Maggie Hickey conducted a thorough investigation spanning several months into the allegations that led to my termination," Fitzgerald said in the statement. "Her investigation reaffirmed what I have always maintained — that I had no knowledge whatsoever of any form of hazing with the Northwestern Football Program."
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