Northwestern Facing 3 New Lawsuits Stemming From Football Hazing Scandal as Ex-Player Claims Coaches Knew of Alleged Abuse

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

A former Northwestern University football player says he was hazed repeatedly during his time with the university’s football program, and that in at least one instance, the team’s coaches watched and laughed as it happened.

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The allegation comes as part of a new lawsuit filed on behalf of linebacker Nathan Fox, who played football at the university from 2015 to 2018. His suit is among three new cases brought in connection with the extensive hazing scandal.

“It is abundantly clear to us that numerous staff members knew about the violent sexual hazing and emotional abuse that was occurring under Northwestern’s watch,” Margaret Battersby Black, an attorney with Levin & Perconti, which represents these plaintiffs, said in a statement.

Fox and two unnamed “John Doe” plaintiffs filed suits this week against Northwestern and former head football coach Pat Fitzgerald, who was fired last year amid an investigation into the hazing allegations.

A Northwestern spokesperson on Thursday declined to comment on the pending litigation. An attorney representing Fitzgerald — who is also named as a defendant in this lawsuit and is himself suing Northwestern for wrongful termination — did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read More: The Northwestern Hazing Scandal: A Timeline of Allegations, Investigations and Lawsuits

According to Battersby Black, university employees were told about the alleged hazing by Fox and other players years before Northwestern hired former state inspector general Maggie Hickey to investigate allegations of abuse.

“Instead of doing the right thing and reporting the abuse or taking steps to stop it,” Battersby Black said, “those who knew either ignored it or retaliated against those who came forward.”

Fox’s lawsuit alleged he was the victim of multiple “runnings” — a hazing practice in which players would hold down and “dry hump” a teammate.

According to Fox, upperclassmen discussed “running” with incoming freshmen as early as their recruiting trips, but they kept the details of the process vague.

“Incoming freshm(e)n were misled about the safety of the conduct/program and the process of desensitizing them to accepting these activities began during the post-commitment official visit,” Fox’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit. “During their visits, incoming (freshmen) were groomed to believe the conduct they were about to endure during their time as a member of the Northwestern Football Program, was normal.”

After Fox enrolled and arrived on campus, he claimed upperclassmen began making threatening comments about what was to occur during “Camp Kenosha” — the team’s preseason training camp held in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

During the 2015 camp, held in August, Fox alleged 30 or more teammates burst into his room, grabbed him by his arms and legs and stripped him down to his underwear before he was “ran” by six or seven players.

The following season during the 2016 camp, Fox was “ran” again after he taunted a teammate, the lawsuit states.

“While being ran in 2016, the teammate held Nathan in mid-air, holding him as tightly as he could, while Nathan was left struggling to breathe and with blurred vision,” Fox’s attorneys wrote in their complaint.

Fox claimed players were also forced to strip naked and complete exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, rope swings, one-on-one drills and pass rushing drills.

According to the lawsuit, Fox was “ran” during the middle of the team’s practice field during Northwestern’s 2015 football season. He claimed NU coaches “watched this happen and laughed as Nathan was being held down while trying to get away.”

Fitzgerald has denied knowing about any hazing that allegedly occurred under his watch while he led the program from 2006 until his termination last year.

But Fox claims he told at least six Northwestern employees about the hazing, including a university therapist who asked Fox to waive his confidentiality so the therapist could speak with coaches about his allegations.

According to the lawsuit, while speaking to the full team during a meeting a short time later, Fitzgerald allegedly looked directly at Fox and said: “Those who take the easy way out and stop when they are tired, do not deserve to play, but then bitch and moan to their therapists about not playing and having unfair treatment.”

Fitzgerald’s attorney Dan Webb previously said he’d spoken with several former players and coaches, none of whom said that they’d witnessed hazing. He also claimed last year that some of the lawsuits alleging Fitzgerald knew of any hazing were filed by people seeking to “take advantage of a situation.”

Fox eventually transferred to the University of Houston after four years at Northwestern.

“The football program’s sickening and systematic culture of violent sexual and emotional abuse went on for years and pushed numerous players to self-harm, contemplate suicide, and endure serious mental trauma and illness,” Battersby Black said. “It is time for Northwestern and Patrick Fitzgerald to acknowledge and answer for their wrongdoings so the healing can begin and this shameful era in the University’s history can end.”

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