Former Northwestern football player sues school, Pat Fitzgerald amid hazing scandal

The former player claims to have been subjected to 'sexualized hazing and physical abuse'

A former Northwestern football player has filed a lawsuit against the university related to allegations of hazing inside the Wildcats football program.

The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday morning in Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court, lists Northwestern University, its board of trustees and former football head coach Pat Fitzgerald as defendants. According to ESPN, current Northwestern president Michael Schill and athletic director Derrick Gragg, as well as former president Morton Schapiro, are also listed as defendants.

The former player, who filed the lawsuit anonymously, was a member of the Northwestern football team from 2018-22 and claims to have been subjected to “sexualized hazing and physical abuse.”

According to a press release from the Law Firm of Salvi, Schostok and Pritchard, the former player alleges the defendants “were negligent in failing to prevent hazing traditions, failing to intervene in hazing traditions, and failing to protect students from acts that were assaultive, illegal, and often sexual in nature.”

The lawsuit, the first filed in the aftermath of the hazing scandal that cost Fitzgerald his job, also alleges racial discrimination within the football program. The plaintiff will seek damages in excess of $50,000, his attorneys told ESPN.

“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. We intend to hold the defendants, including Fitzgerald, accountable for the alleged actions and seek justice for victims of abuse, hazing, and discrimination,” attorneys Parker Stinar and Adam Pulaski said in a statement.

“Institutions, athletic departments, and coaches are responsible for creating a safe and supportive environment for student-athletes. There is no place for the vile and disturbing hazing incidents that have taken place within the Northwestern football program. We applaud the courage of our client and the others who were brave enough to speak out about their experiences in the hopes of ending these types of incidents both at Northwestern and elsewhere.”

In addition to Tuesday’s lawsuit, news emerged Monday that eight former Northwestern players retained civil rights attorney Ben Crump and a Chicago-based law firm to pursue legal action against the school. A lawsuit involving those players has yet to be filed.

FILE - Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald stands on the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan, Oct. 23, 2021, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Northwestern has fired Fitzgerald Monday, July 10, 2023, amid a hazing scandal that called into question his leadership of the program and damaged the university's reputation after it mishandled its response to the allegations. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
Northwestern fired longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald amid a hazing scandal that called into question his leadership of the program. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Pat Fitzgerald initially suspended, then fired

Fitzgerald was fired after the results of a months-long investigation into allegations of hazing in the football program. Schill initially levied a two-week suspension for Fitzgerald, a former Northwestern linebacker who had been his alma mater’s head coach since 2006. However, following the publication of a story from The Daily Northwestern that detailed the allegations of hazing within the program, Schill reversed course and fired Fitzgerald days later.

Attorneys tasked with investigating the hazing allegations did not find “sufficient evidence” that Fitzgerald or members of his coaching staff were aware of the hazing. However, investigators concluded that there were “significant opportunities” for the coaches to “discover and report the hazing conduct.”

Fitzgerald has maintained he was unaware of the alleged hazing and has hired an attorney to “take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law.”

Northwestern originally received the anonymous complaint with hazing allegations in November and acknowledged the ongoing investigation in January. On July 7, the school released a summary of the investigation with very few details and announced Fitzgerald’s two-week suspension, as well as other measures being taken to combat hazing.

The Daily Northwestern’s story was published the next day, and Schill released a statement saying he would reconsider Fitzgerald’s discipline. Two days later, Fitzgerald’s firing was announced.

"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.”

Schill said over the course of the investigation, 11 current or former football players acknowledged the hazing in the football program and that the hazing was "well-known by many in the program."

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