In the aftermath of the firing of former head coach Pat Fitzergerald, eight former players have announced their intent to sue the university on allegations of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
Ben Crump, an attorney specializing in civil rights cases, has been working with former Northwestern football players to bring justice and raise awareness regarding all types of sexual abuse in college athletics.
There have been multiple reports of sexual abuse within the program. A practice known as running was one of the ways ex-football players were sexually abused. Underclassmen were dry-humped in a dark locker room by upperclassmen when they made mistakes on the field, the Daily Northwestern reported. This practice became widely known among players as there were whiteboards displaying language such as "runsgiving" and "Shreaks List." The list had the names of players who needed to be "ran". In light of the fact that these lists were made available to everyone in the locker room, it raises questions about the initial statement by former head coach, Fitzergerald.
Fitzergearld allegedly took part in the hazing by clapping his hand over certain players which meant they were in trouble and had to be "ran." A victim explained that, "Everyone joins in, because he’s the head coach.”
A second common hazing tradition described by the unnamed victims is called "The Car Wash." In The Car Wash, veteran players stand naked at the starting point of the showers and spin in a circle. This action forces the victims to rub against another naked man.
Other instances of the alleged sexual abuse occurred when freshmen were required to strip and perform humiliating acts in front of veteran players "Naked center-quarterback exchanges" were another degrading act freshmen were allegedly required to participate in. It involved naked quarterbacks forced to take a snap by an unclothed center.
One of the victims was even vocal about how he didn't feel comfortable performing these humiliating acts. However, his pleas were not taken seriously and, if he didn't perform the action, he would have to be "ran."
The current football team issued a statement following the public allegations and the firing of the head coach, denying that Fitzergerald had knowledge of the hazing.
The statement read, "It is crucial to note that our Head Coach, Pat Fitzgerald, was not involved in any of the alleged incidents in any way, shape, or form. We urge you to respect the privacy and well-being of the individuals involved, including both the accused and the accusers. Our team remains committed to our Head Coach and upholding the values of Northwestern University and fostering a positive, inclusive, and respectful environment for all."
It must also be noted that Fitzergerald has also been accused of racism towards athletes of color. Former player, Ramon Diaz, told the Daily Northwestern, "I didn’t feel like I could be anything other than white. We never felt like we could be ourselves.We had to fit in by being white or acting white or laughing at our own people.”
The attorney who represented George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery has stated that the appropriate measures will be taken to ensure the safety of all college athletes, including those who are not Northwestern students.
Crump stated, “legal action is expected to expand beyond Northwestern’s football program and will expose extreme and abusive hazing in other college athletic programs as well."
While the alleged victims are preparing for a legal battle, Fitzergerald is also contacting lawyers to protect his rights with the law. Across both sides of the lawsuit, a landmark legal battle in college athletic history is underway.