The hazing scandal is said to include Northwestern’s baseball and softball programs
By Paulina Dedaj
Ben Crump, the prominent civil rights attorney representing several former Northwestern student-athletes after the recent revelation of a hazing scandal within the university’s football program, announced plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of at least 15 individuals claiming to have been subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Crump, joined by several former Northwestern athletes, spoke at a press conference Wednesday. He said he and co-counsel Steven M. Levin spoke with more than 50 student-athletes, including both men and women who said they experienced hazing at the university.
“It is apparent to us that it is a toxic culture that was rampant in the athletic department at Northwestern University,” Crump said.
“And what they shared with us was clearly a pattern and practice of a culture that was predicated on physical intimidation, harassment, discrimination, abuse, both mentally and sexually, and it was normalized.”
Crump noted that some of the students involved in the alleged abuse were minors at the time. He also said he and other attorneys have received disturbing details from former baseball and softball players at the university, in addition to growing complaints of abuse in the football program.
“This is a civil rights issue, for me, because I think these players had the right to be respected and valued and not hazed and intimidated and retaliated [against],” Crump added.
“And so in the days and weeks to come, I am certain that others will have the courage to tell their story. And I am encouraged by the phone calls we’ve been receiving. These phone calls from young people first telling their story and asking, ‘If I come forward what will happen to me?’ Well I want them to know, you will be protected, and you won’t be alone.”
Crump said the lawsuit has not yet been filed, but a separate law firm filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing ousted football coach Pat Fitzgerald of enabling a culture of racism, including forcing players of color to cut their hair and behave differently to be more in line with the “Wildcat Way.”
More lawsuits, filed by multiple law firms, are expected to follow.
Northwestern President Michael Schill announced in an open letter July 10 the decision to fire Fitzgerald after 17 seasons with the Wildcats came as a result of an independent investigation that found him at fault over his “failure to know and prevent significant hazing in the football program.”
Fitzgerald was initially suspended two weeks following the confidential investigation, which did not find “sufficient” evidence that the coaching staff knew about the ongoing hazing. It also found that there were, however, “significant opportunities” to find out about it, and nearly a dozen current or former players acknowledged the hazing within the program.
But as new information surfaced, including allegations of racial bias, the university moved to fire Fitzpatrick.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.