April 24, 2024

Northwestern’s scandal widens to include suits from former quarterback and first female athlete

CHICAGO – The scandal at Northwestern University has expanded to include a volleyball player who became the first female athlete to sue the university over allegations she was retaliated against for reporting mistreatment and a new lawsuit filed by former Northwestern quarterback Lloyd Yates.

“This shows that it’s not just men,” said Parker Stinar, one of her lawyers. “It’s not just football players.”

The private school in Evanston, Illinois, is facing multiple lawsuits, including one on behalf of Yates, who alleges hazing that includes sexual abuse.

Lloyd Yates during a press conference that addressed widespread allegations at Northwestern University in Chicago last week. Erin Hooley / AP

“This is the first in a series of lawsuits,” said civil rights attorney Ben Crump, adding that he plans to file more than 30 cases in the coming weeks.

The Big Ten school scandal points to a problem that seems to extend far beyond sports, even if sports often get the headlines. While major college sports programs have generated millions of dollars, ritual leaks within them seem to remain a problematic tradition.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, Crump said the Yates case is the first with a named plaintiff and includes comments from other named players.

“It’s a big thing when these young people have the courage to take a stand and refuse to be victimized anymore, refuse to have their voices silenced,” Crump said.

Crump called this college sports a “Me Too” moment.

Attorney Ben Crump at a press conference addressing widespread sexual harassment allegations at Northwestern University on July 19, 2023, in Chicago.
Attorney Ben Crump at a press conference addressing widespread cover-up allegations at Northwestern University in Chicago last week.Erin Hooley / AP file

Football coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired after a university investigation found allegations of hazing by 11 current or former players, including “forced participation, nudity and sexual acts of a degrading nature,” school President Michael Schill said. One previous lawsuit accuses Fitzgerald of enabling a culture of racism, including forcing players of color to cut their hair and behave differently to better fit the “Wildcat Way.”

The volleyball player, identified in the lawsuit Monday as Jane Doe, says she was physically harmed until she needed medical attention during a hazardous incident in early 2021.

According to the law, Jane Doe contracted covid in February of that year, despite following the team’s guidelines. Despite that, she says, Northwestern volleyball coach Shane Davis and an assistant coach told her she would face “penalty” for violating the guidelines. A day later, on March 2, 2021, the coaches allowed the captain of the volleyball team to pick the punishment: she had to run “suicide” in the gym by diving on the floor every time she reached a line on the court. How she did this, says the suit, watch volleyball training staff, staff members and coaches.

Campus police were notified of the incident, as was the athletic department, the lawsuit says. Jane Doe says she was cut from the team and that Davis forced her to write a letter of apology to trainers. The lawsuit also says the player met with athletic director Derrick Gragg to discuss the volleyball program’s culture but “did nothing in response” to her concerns.

Davis did not immediately respond Monday morning to messages seeking comment. Messages were also left with Gragg and a spokesperson for the athletic department.

The school announced in December 2021 that Davis had signed a multi-year contract extension. A year later, in December 2022, the player medically retired from the sport.

Northwestern spokesman Jon Yates confirmed the unnamed student made a vocal allegation in March 2021. Jon Yates said after the coaching staff was suspended during an investigation, which confirmed an injury, two volleyball games were canceled and mandatory anti-hazing training was implemented.

“Although this incident predates President Schill and Athletic Director Gragg’s tenure at the University, each is taking it very seriously,” said Jon Yates. “Dr. Gragg met the student at her request last year, and as Schill President he wrote in a a message to the North West communitythe University is working to ensure that we have appropriate accountability in place for our athletic department.”

The Chicago-based Salvi law firm filed the lawsuit in Cook County, Illinois and named as defendants Davis and Gragg as well as the university, its current and former presidents and the board of trustees. The suit also names Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner James J. Phillips, who was Northwestern’s athletic director until 2021. Phillips, who is named as a defendant in two other lawsuits, is he said he had never condoned or accepted inappropriate behaviour against the athletes as Northwestern’s athletic director.

Crump had planned to announce another lawsuit against Northwestern over allegations of misconduct in its athletic programs, with the latest suit citing “damning new details” of misconduct and sexual abuse in its football program.

Fitzgerald, who led Northwestern for 17 seasons and was a star linebacker for the Wildcats, insisted he knew nothing about the shoulder. Fitzgerald said after he was fired that he was working with his agent, Bryan Harlan, and his lawyer, Dan Webb, to “protect my rights according to the law.”

The IS accusations of wickedness increased beyond the school’s football program as attorneys said last week that male and female athletes reported misconduct within their baseball and softball programs. They also suggested that sexual abuse and racial discrimination within the football program was so rampant that coaches knew it was happening.

Northwest added to a long list for American universities to face a scandal in athletics and could eventually be involved in making large payouts after allegations of sexual abuse.

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