The first of what is expected to be a number of lawsuits stemming from the hazing scandal in the Northwestern University football program was filed on Tuesday by a former player who was with the Wildcats from 2018 through 2022.
The athlete, known only as “John Doe” in the litigation, was, according to the law firms filing the case, “among many others who have been subjected to sexualized hazing and physical abuse while they were part of the Northwestern Athletic Program.”
NU President Michael Schill fired head coach Pat Fitzgerald last week, after first suspending him for two weeks without pay in the wake of allegations by an anonymous former player.
The ex-coach, who is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, is named as a defendant, along with the university’s Board of Trustees and other NU officials.
One of the former player’s attorney, Patrick Salvi II, issued a statement along with co-counsel saying that “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.”
Fitzgerald has denied any knowledge of the hazing, and has hired an attorney of his own. It’s possible he may sue NU for wrongful termination, as the university’s outside investigator found no significant evidence that Fitzgerald was aware of the improper conduct in the locker room.
However, Northwestern president Michael Schill, who fired the coach, said at the time that there were ample opportunities for Fitzgerald to have found out what was going on
On Tuesday, following the filing of the first ex-player lawsuit, Schill issued a statement saying that he is “restricted in discussing the specifics” of pending litigation.
“I am also concerned – as I am sure you are,” Schill continued, “about protecting the confidentiality and rights of our students.”
Schill also said he is committed to doing “whatever is necessary to address this situation and ensure that our athletic program remains … fully aligned with and reflects our values.”
He added that NU will “redouble our efforts” to safeguard the welfare of every student-athlete.
Following the outside investigation, NU took a number of steps, including establishing outside monitoring of the football locker room.
Schill said these steps are “just the start,” and Northwestern will also implement a previous Faculty Senate recommendation to look into the “accountability mechanism” of the Athletics Department and its ability to detect threats to athlete welfare.
Schill also said NU will examine the “culture” of NU Athletics and its “relationship to the academic mission” of the school, so it is “more closely integrated” with that mission.
Attorney Salvi told Evanston Now that as a result of filing the initial suit, “we expect a lot more to come out” in upcoming weeks, with the expectation of “many athletes coming forward.”
Salvi and his co-counsel will hold a news conference regarding the case on Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.
One hour later, another Chicago law firm, Levin and Perconti, will hold a separate news conference, along with civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has joined them in representing eight former NU football players.
Those players have not filed suit … yet.