Jim Phillips, who was Northwestern University’s director of athletics from 2008 until 2021, tells Evanston Now “any allegation that I ever condoned or tolerated inappropriate conduct against student athletes is absolutely false.”
Phillips, who was AD during part of the time when former football players say hazing took place, has been named as a defendant by ex-Wildcats identified only as “John Doe #2,” and “John Doe #3.”
The latter lawsuit was filed with Cook County Circuit Court Thursday, following cases from “John Doe #2” and “John Doe #1 earlier in the week.
All three contain similar allegations of emotionally and physically demeaning hazing in the NU locker room, although Phillips is a not named defendant in case #1.
The complaints were all filed by the Chicago law firm of Salvi, Schostock & Pritchard, and includes the university, dismissed coach Pat Fitzgerald, and other university officials as defendants.
In a response to questions from Evanston Now, Phillips’ e-mailed response states that “This has been a difficult time for the Northwestern University community, a place that my family called home,” and that during his 30 years in college athletics, “my highest priority has always been the safety of all student athletes.”
Phillips, who became commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference after leaving Northwestern, added that hazing is “completely unacceptable … and my heart goes out to anyone who carries the burden of being mistreated.”
Besides saying he never condoned nor tolerated such inappropriate conduct, Phillips also said, “I will vigorously defend myself against any suggestion to the contrary.”
It looks like this saga is setting up for a long stay in the courthouse.
More lawsuits are likely from former players.
A different legal team, Chicago lawyer Steve Levin and national civil rights attorney Ben Crump say they have 15 former NU athletes as clients, mostly but not all from football.
A lawsuit is expected there.
And former coach Fitzgerald, who has also denied any role in or knowledge of the hazing, potentially may end up suing NU for improper dismissal/breach of contract.
In a statement to ESPN earlier this week, the former’ coach’s attorney, Dan Webb, said “we will aggressively defend against these allegations with facts and evidence.”
Webb added that “we look forward to defending Coach Fitzgerald and taking all steps necessary to protect his legal rights, name and reputation.”