A former North West football player filed the first lawsuit against him Pat Gerald and members of the school’s leadership, seeking damages arising from it fog scandal which cost the former football coach his job.
The player, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe, alleged on Tuesday in Cook County Court in Chicago that Fitzgerald, Northwestern University President Michael Schill, the board of trustees and athletic director Derrick Gragg enabled and concealed sexual misconduct and racial discrimination.
The player, who was on the football team from 2018 to 2022, filed the law firm Salvi, based in Chicago.
“It wasn’t limited to one bad actor,” attorney Parker Stinar said in an interview with the Associated Press. “It wasn’t limited to one team, like the football team. It also included a culture of acceptance and acceptance and encouragement on the baseball team and other sports teams, as well as men’s and women’s sports.
“So, it’s a corrupt athletic department.”
Messages seeking comment were left with Northwest spokesman Jon Yates and Gragg.
“We have no comment at this time,” said Fitzgerald’s agent, Bryan Harlan.
More lawsuits, filed by multiple law firms, are expected to come from former football and baseball players and student-athletes who played other sports for the Wildcats.
At least eight former Northwestern football players Attorneys have been retained after recent revelations that led to Fitzgerald hitting out at the university leadership and harshly criticizing him for his initial response to the allegations.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and the Chicago-based law firm Levin & Perconti announced Monday that they have “found a wide range of incidents of abuse in the Northwestern football program.” They added that it is expected that more athletes will participate in the legal action and that it will expand beyond Northwestern football to other college athletic programs.
A news conference is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Chicago with Crump, former Northwestern athletes and attorneys from Levin & Perconti.
Crump has represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others in high-profile civil rights cases.
Stinar represented about 200 of the 1,050 people who shared in it $490 million financial settlement last year with the University of Michigan after they were allegedly sexually assaulted by a late sports doctor, Robert Anderson. The attorney also had clients among the hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by the former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and were part of a $380 million settlement at the end of 2021.
“It is shameful that this behavior is continuing until 2022,” said Stinar. “We fully intend to hold those who were involved, knew, enabled, and the university accountable as well.”
The Northwest may come in eventually a long list of American universities who made large payments following allegations of sexual abuse.
Fitzgerald was fired last week after a university investigation uncovered allegations of hazing by 11 current or former players, including “forced participation, nudity and sexual acts of a degrading nature,” Schill wrote.
Fitzgerald, who led Northwestern for 17 seasons and was a star linebacker for the Wildcats in the mid-1990s, said he had no knowledge of the suit. Fitzgerald said after he was fired that he was working with his agent, Bryan Harlan, and Chicago defense attorney Dan Webb, who recently represented Fox News in a defamation case, to “protect my rights under the law.”
After the school initially suspended him, The Daily Northwestern published an article including allegations from a former player who described specific instances of harassment and abuse and suggested that Fitzgerald may have been aware.
“Based on the allegations that we’ve seen and the reports that we’ve seen, he (Fitzgerald) knew and approved of the sexual harassment, the sexual discrimination, the racial discrimination and the harassment,” said Stinar. “He knew about it. It was happening under his roof. He knew what was going on and allowed it for years and years.”
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