Eight former student-athletes from Northwestern University have retained prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump amid allegations of a hazing scandal that prompted the university to fire longtime head football coach Pat Fitzgerald last week.
Crump and co-counsel Steven M. Levin announced Monday that they have spoken with several Northwestern student-athletes in regard to the hazing allegations surrounding the football program that surfaced earlier this month.
“Whether the coaches at Northwestern approved or participated in the harassment of these players or not, they are responsible for allowing and enabling a toxic, disgusting, and damaging culture in their programs,” Crump said.
“Sadly, our research suggests that this kind of abuse of student athletes may be far more common on college campuses than we know, because there is tremendous pressure to keep quiet. It’s time for a reckoning to protect young athletes.”
Northwestern President Michael Schill announced in an open letter on July 10 that 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, including allegations of racial bias, surfaced, the university moved to fire Fitzpatrick.
“These former Northwestern football players are participating in this legal action because they want to support and validate the allegations of abuse made by the two players who spoke to the Daily Northwestern about the true nature of the so-called hazing,” Levin said in a statement.
“They believe that more stringent oversight and accountability are required in college athletics to prevent such abuses from happening to other players in the future. The physical, emotional and sexual abuse not only violated Northwestern’s own policies, but also numerous laws, and worse, has led to irreparable harm, with some players even experiencing suicidal thoughts.”
Crump noted that they have spoken to others and that “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.”
Fitzgerald issued a statement after his firing pointing to the investigation as confirmation that he had no knowledge of any hazing within the program. He also retained legal counsel and said that he had instructed his attorney to “take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.