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Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Former Northwestern QB

PALO ALTO, CA - AUGUST 31: Northwestern Wildcats helmet during the college football game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on August 31, 2019 in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire)

A former Northwestern quarterback is suing the school through a prominent Illinois attorney for negligence amid a hazing.

This is the fourth hazing-related lawsuit that’s been filed against the University this summer.

The lawsuit, obtained by USA Today, was filed by Ben Crump, a Cook County, Illinois attorney, on behalf of a man who played at Northwestern in the middle of the last decade.

“This will be acknowledged as college sports’ #MeToo movement,” Crump, a respected civil rights attorney, said. “We hope we will provide awareness around the issue and support to victims and the eradication of physical, psychological and sexual hazing.”

Crump said he “wants justice for all the victims of this horrific hazing.”

“It’s a real big deal when these young people have the courage to take a stand and refuse to be victims anymore, refuse to have their voices silenced,” he said.

“I want closure for myself and hundreds of other Northwestern football players who suffered in silence,” Crumo said. “Too often, many of us have blamed ourselves for things that were beyond our control. Lastly, I want protection for future players.”

The lawsuit is aiming for more than $50,000 in damages. It accuses Northwestern of negligence, disregarding the safety of its players and violating the Illinois Gender Violence Act.

Lloyd Yates, who played quarterback and receiver at Northwestern from 2015-17, provided a detailed account of alleged hazing that happened in the football program. These allegations led to the firing of longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald earlier this month.

The lawsuit says that not only players. JT assistant coaches were hazing victims at Northwestern.

Days before Fitzgerald’s firing, a former player told the Northwestern student newspaper, the Daily Northwestern, about a hazing exercise known as “running.” The complaint filed on Yates’ behalf says “running” happened when a group of players “forcibly held down a non consenting individual and  (rubbed) their genital areas against the (person’s) genitals, face, and buttocks while rocking back and fourth.”

The lawsuit details a specific allegation.

“During a training session in the Fall of 2015 or the Spring of 2016, a strength and conditioning coach was ‘ran’ by members of the football team, on the field in front of the entire team and coaching staff,0 the lawsuit says.

Yates alleges that he personally experienced “running” by upwards of 15 teammates during preseason camp in 2015.

Earlier this month, Northwestern concluded an outside investigation after receiving a complaint in November that alleged instances of hazing occurring inside the Wildcats’ locker room and at “Camp Kenosha” in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the team holds its preseason camp.

Yates said he was “overcame with disappointment, frustration and shame” upon reading the complaint.

“We were conditioned to believe this behavior was normal,” Yates said, “which is sickening and unacceptable.”

The complaint also alleges that defensive backs coach and associate head coach Matt MacPherson, who has been an assistant since 2006– the same year Fitzgerald took over as head coach— witnessed multiple alleged hazing incidents and did nothing about it. These are said to include naked pull-ups done during preseason training. A former Northwestern player, who the lawsuit identifies as “John Doe 2,” accused MacPherson of showing a social media profile of the player’s girlfriend during a position meeting and making comments about her appearance and inquiring about what they experienced sexually.

The complaint also says that players were belittled because of their color. For example, the lawsuit alleges that a White coach said “you stole them beats, didn’t you?” to a Black player who was wearing new headphones. The coach is alleged to have then laughed and walked away.

Cook addressed the lawsuit in a news conference Monday, saying that “we were all victims.”

“And I want to make that clear,” he said. “No matter what role— if you were being hazed, or on the perpetrating side,— it was just a culture that you had to find a position within.”

In an email written to USA Today Sports, Northwestern Vice President for Global Marketing and Communications, Jon Yates, wrote that Northwestern’s conducting a review of its athletic programs and anti-hazing measures, and also “working to ensure we have in place appropriate accountability for our athletic department.”

University President Michael Schill wrote a letter to the Northwestern community. In the letter, he said he’s “committed to supporting our student-athletes and to re-building any damage our athletic program may have experienced.”

“The commitment includes creating processes and safeguards so that what happened in football can never happen again at Northwestern,” Schill wrote. “That commitment also includes celebrating, defending and caring for both students and staff who are unfairly implicated by a broad brush.”

Yates made it clear what his objective is with this lawsuit.

“I hope by speaking out, other athletes will be freed from the physical, emotional and psychological trauma that I experienced as an athlete at Northwestern University.”

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