Tennessee faces sexual assault lawsuit involving football players

Sam Cooper
(AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Adam Lau)
(AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Adam Lau)

UPDATE (9 a.m. ET Feb. 10)

The lawsuit also alleges that a former Tennessee football player was assaulted by teammates after allegedly helping a woman who was raped by two football players.

The suit says current Chattanooga WR Drae Bowles helped a woman allegedly raped by A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams.

From the Knoxville News-Sentinel:

Williams and Johnson, who were immediately suspended when they were accused, were both eventually charged with rape and are facing separate trials in June and July, respectively. Bowles, who transferred to Chattanooga after the 2014 season, has received a subpoena to testify.

The lawsuit cites police interviews and a Knoxville Police Department incident report as evidence of the assaults. However, no incident report involving Bowles nor any of the police interviews in question could be obtained by the News Sentinel on Tuesday night.


Six women filed a lawsuit against the University of Tennessee on Tuesday.

According to The Tennessean, the suit claims the university “has created a student culture that enables sexual assaults by student-athletes, especially football players, and then uses an unusual, legalistic adjudication process that is biased against victims who step forward.”

Five Tennessee athletes, four former and one current, are accused of sexual assault in the lawsuit. The athletes named in the case are former basketball player Yemi Makanjuola and former football players Johnson, Williams and Riyahd Jones. Additionally, a current football player is also accused, but is listed as a “John Doe.”

Another Vols player, Treyvon Paulk, is also named in the case. A female student claims she was sexually assaulted by a man “after attending a football team party” at a campus dorm where she was “served drinks by Paulk.”

The lawsuit, which says the school violated Title IX laws, cites many off-field transgressions involving Tennessee football players and says administrators “acted with deliberate indifference to the serious risks of sexual assaults and failed to take corrective measures.”

From The Tennessean:

In making its case that the university enabled an environment of bad behavior and used a disciplinary system that favored the players, the lawsuit cited more than a dozen incidents involving football players that included underage drinking, sexual harassment, assault, armed robbery and sexual assaults that did not involve the Jane Doe plaintiffs. Some of the incidents cited have previously never been reported.

The plaintiffs say that UT violated the Title IX laws, which protect students from gender discrimination in federally funded education programs. UT created a hostile sexual environment for female students by showing “deliberate indifference and a clearly unreasonable response after a sexual assault that causes a student to endure additional harassment," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said blame for the hostile policies should be placed at the very top of the UT administration.

“UT administration (Chancellor Jimmy Cheek), athletic department (Vice Chancellor and Athletics Director) Dave Hart and football coach (Butch Jones) were personally aware (as ‘appropriate persons’ under Title IX) and had actual notice of previous sexual assaults and rapes by football players, yet acted with deliberate indifference to the serious risks of sexual assaults and failed to take corrective actions,” the plaintiffs said in their lawsuit.

The lawsuit criticizes the way the school responds to allegations and its hearing process, saying investigations were “delayed” until accused student-athletes “transferred to another school or graduated without sanction or discipline.”

From The Tennessean:

The plaintiffs say that UT’s administrative hearing process, which is utilized by public universities across the state, is unfair because it provides students accused of sexual assault the right to attorneys and to confront their accusers through cross-examination and an evidentiary hearing in front of an administrative law judge. The administrative law judge who hears the case is appointed by Cheek, the lawsuit says.

“Athletes knew in advance that UT would: support them even after a complaint of sexual assault; arrange for top quality legal representation; and then direct them to the (Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act) hearing procedure that denies victims the right to a hearing and to the same equal procedural, hearing, and process rights as given to perpetrators of rape and sexual assault,” the plaintiffs said in their lawsuit.

Johnson and Williams were named in a December 2014 rape case involving the same woman and are both awaiting separate trials scheduled for the summer. Johnson graduated from UT, but had his invitation to the NFL combine withdrawn after the charges came down. Williams did not return to the team.

Jones was named as a suspect in an alleged Feb. 2015 incident, but the woman chose not to pursue charges.

Makanjuola was accused of sexual assault in February 2013. He was granted his release two months later and landed at UNC-Wilmington. Then-UT men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, now at California, said he and Makanjuola “came to a mutual agreement” for Makanjuola to “get a fresh start with a new program.”

Per The Tennessean, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit “are seeking damages including reimbursement and pre-payment for all of their tuition and related expenses incurred as a consequence of the sexual assaults, as well as damages for deprivation of equal access to the educational benefits and opportunities provided by UT.” The plaintiffs also seek damages for “emotional suffering.”

The U.S. Department of Education previously started a Title IX investigation into the university last year after as many as six players on the 2014 football team, including Johnson, Williams and Jones, were accused of sexual assault. 

For more Tennessee news, visit VolQuest.com.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!