A former Northwestern football player alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that former football coach Pat Fitzgerald and other defendants, including university president Michael Schill and former president Morton Schapiro, were “negligent” in failing to prevent hazing among the team.
The suit, filed by the former player’s attorneys in Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court, also lists the university and its board of trustees as defendants. ESPN first reported Tuesday’s filing.
In the suit, the player — who is identified as “John Doe” and as a member of the team from 2018 to 2022 — alleges the defendants “failed to prevent hazing traditions,” “failed to intervene in hazing traditions” and “failed to protect Northwestern’s students from acts that were assaultive, illegal and often sexual in nature” at or around the school’s locker rooms and/or at training camp in Kenosha, Wis.
The plaintiff alleges in the suit that Northwestern’s football program “has had longstanding issues involving hazing and bullying that takes on a sexual and/or racist tone.” The player says that Fitzgerald, specifically, “forced players of color to cut their hair and/or behavior differently to be more in line with the ‘Wildcat Way’” and “enabled a culture of racism and/or other microaggressions” on the team.
The former player is seeking more than $50,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit. In a statement, the lawyers representing John Doe — Patrick A. Salvi II of Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard, Parker Stinar of the Stinar Law Firm, and Adam Pulaski of Pulaski Kherker — encouraged “anyone who may have information related to this matter” to contact their firms.
On Monday, eight former Northwestern football players announced they had retained a law firm and attorney to pursue legal action against the school over hazing within the football program. The Levin & Perconti law firm said it is partnering with civil rights attorney Ben Crump to represent the players.
In January, Northwestern hired an outside law firm to conduct a six-month investigation into hazing in the program. On July 7, the school announced that the evidence largely backed up accusations but couldn’t point to specific misconduct by a player or coach. It also said Fitzgerald was not aware and suspended him for two weeks without pay.
Following The Daily Northwestern’s reporting of specific allegations the next day, Schill backtracked and fired Fitzgerald on July 10 “for his failure to know and prevent significant hazing in the football program.” Fitzgerald has retained legal counsel and is considering legal action against the school.
No players have been publicly disciplined by the school. Northwestern retained the rest of the coaching staff and promoted defensive coordinator David Braun to interim head coach for the season. Braun was hired in January.
A timeline of the football controversy at Northwestern
(Photo of Fitzgerald: Jeffrey Becker / USA Today)