Ex-NU football player Lloyd Yates, flanked by attorneys Steve Levin (L) and Ben Crump (R).

Four young men who came to Northwestern University with hopes and dreams of playing football said Wednesday that a “culture of hazing” forced them to undergo dehumanizing harassment as the way of life in the NU program.

At a press conference with their attorneys, the players outlined what, until now, had been only revealed anonymously, in connection with the hazing scandal that cost head football coach Pat Fitzgerald his job.

Lloyd Yates, a quarterback/wide receiver from 2015-2017, was primary spokesperson for the athletes, who are represented by Chicago attorney Steve Levin, and national civil rights lawyer Ben Crump.

“We were just told” that the hazing was “part of playing college football,” Yates said.

“We wanted to be accepted and fit in,” and so players internalized that the “forced participation” was part of the system, Yates added.

The lawyers said they represent 15 former NU athletes so far, mostly, but not all of whom played football.

The attorneys have not filed a lawsuit yet, but it is expected.

Crump said they have heard from ex-players with tales of abuse as far back as 2013.

“The stories are eerily similar to one another” from year to year, Crump said.

Former coach Fitzgerald, who played at NU and was head coach for 17 seasons, has said he was not aware of the hazing, and an outside investigation done for Northwestern found no significant evidence that he did know about it.

The Hall of Fame coach was fired last week by University President Michael Schill, who reversed himself after initially only imposing a two-week suspension.

Fitzgerald has hired an attorney, and a breach of contract lawsuit is at least a possibility.

Crump said, “If the coach or coaches didn’t know [about the hazing], it would have to be malfeasance. They had to be asleep at the wheel.”

The lawyer said that if players complained, they feared losing playing time or even their athletic scholarship.

Crump added that the problem, however, was “not with an individual coach. It falls at the doorstep of Northwestern as an institution.”

“All of it was humiliating,” Yates said of the abuse, which was often sexualized, including so-called “dry humping,” and naked simulation of the center-quarterback exchange.

“You say it’s not going to happen to me,” Yates stated. “I’m going to fight back.”

“But then, you’re dominated by the culture,” a “code of silence” where what happened in the locker room stayed in the locker room.

That culture, Yates added, “was so strong we felt we had to go with it to survive,” although some players even considered not surviving, “contemplating suicide,” Yates said.

Yates also said that “even some coaches took part” in the hazing, but did not elaborate.

Former player Warren Miles-Long (running back, 2013-18) said “sexual violence and assault were rampant.”

Former NU pfootball players Warren Miles-Long (Center), Simba Short (L), Lloyd Yates (R)

Simba Short, (linebacker, 2016-17) put it simply.

“We were scared,” he said.

And ex-Wildcat Tom Carnifax (defensive lineman, 2016-19) urged other victims to go public and, or if they’re still on the NU team and feel uncomfortable, transfer to another program.

Former NU football player Tom Carnifax, at press connference in Chicago.

“I spent the last four years hating myself for what I went through,” Carnifax said.

“This is the opportunity to speak out.”

Attorney Levin noted that some of the players were minors when the abuse occurred, which may have a more strict legal standard.

In setting the tone for what may be a very large claim for damages, Levin said the former players had suffered serious emotional harm, and said Northwestern has already “Indicted itself” by the outside investigation which confirmed the existence of hazing.

“If a fraternity did this, ” Levin said, “they’d be thrown off campus.”

Crump said they have also been contacted by a member of the women’s softball team regarding allegations with that program.

NU also recently fired baseball coach Jim Foster after reports surfaced of bullying.

Crump said the goal here is “landmark litigation to set a precedent” for NU and all other college athletics programs on how to make things right and then do things right.

While Crump and Levin have not filed suit yet, a different legal team not only has filed the first case stemming from the scandal, but has now filed the second.

Attorney Patrick Salvi II and co-counsel Parker Stinar on Wednesday said that another player, identified as “John Doe #2” (their first filing was “John Doe #1”) is also suing NU, Fitzgerald, the university’s board of trustees, and other current and former officials, including previous athletics director Jim Phillips, who now heads the Atlantic Coast Conference (Evanston Now has a request in to the ACC for reaction).

Attorneys Patrick Salvi II (L) and Parker Stinar have filed a second hazing-related lawsuit against NU.

Salvi said “the abuse and the hazing and the racial discrimination was so widespread that it goes beyond the football program,” claiming issues with baseball, softball and volleyball teams as well as a cheerleader lawsuit filed in 2021.

Salvi also questioned the credibility of Northwestern’s outside investigation of the football program, saying the law firm hired by NU had close ties to the school’s office of general counsel.

“An outward facade” of impartiality, he called the relationship.

Co-counsel Stinar has represented victims of the former Michigan State University gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, who is now in prison, and of the late University of Michigan physician Robert Anderson, both of whom sexually abused athletes.

Stinar said those two universities “protected profits over people and protected their brands,” implying that NU has done the same thing.

It’s unknown if any of the athletes represented by the two legal teams were also among those interviewed by Northwestern’s outside investigators, or if one of them was the anonymous whistle-blower whose complaint started that investigation following the 2022 season.

Northwestern President Michael Schill recently gave his “commitment to continue to do whatever is necessary” to address the hazing situation and “ensure that our athletic program remains one you can be proud of and one that is fully aligned with and reflects our values.”

However, Schill has refused to release more than an executive summary of NU’s hazing investigation, citing student confidentiality and the inability to comment on pending litigation.

Still, it’s likely far more will come out.

Attorney Salvi said “we’ve already seen fires. There’s more smoke in the distance, and so there will be more fires coming.”

And however this does play out, one other casualty is the reputation of Northwestern University.

Former football player Yates noted that he was an NU legacy. His grandfather, father, and brother attended the university.

“But if I had kids now,” Yates said, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable extending that legacy.”

In other words, they’d look elsewhere for college.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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