Chicago Firm Will Represent 8 Former Northwestern Football Players ‘Victimized’ by Physical, Emotional and Sexual Abuse

Chicago Firm Will Represent 8 Former Northwestern Football Players ‘Victimized’ by Physical, Emotional and Sexual Abuse

Chicago-based personal injury and medical malpractice firm Levin & Perconti is partnering with renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump to represent eight former Northwestern players in the hazing scandal that included physical, emotional and sexual abuse. From forced participation in humiliating acts, racial bias, to punishments that inflicted severe physical discomfort, sexual abuse and psychological trauma, the lawyers have uncovered a vast array of incidents of abuse in the Northwestern football program. More players are expected to join the legal action in the coming days. The 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.

“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,” said attorney Ben Crump. “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.”

The Northwestern hazing scandal first became public when the University announced on July 7th, that head football Coach Pat Fitzgerald had been suspended without pay for two weeks as a result of an independent investigation into hazing allegations in the football program. Northwestern retained an outside investigator, former Illinois inspector general Maggie Hickey, after receiving an anonymous email last November regarding the alleged hazing. In its statement on July 7th announcing Fitzgerald’s suspension, the University did not give any details regarding the nature or severity of the hazing. 

The next day, on July 8th, The Daily Northwestern published an article about the alleged hazing detailing the actual brutal and barbaric abuses suffered by two anonymous team members. What they described went way beyond ‘standard’ hazing and was violent, degrading and sexual in nature. Two days later, Northwestern President Michael Schill announced Fitzgerald was fired after serving as head football coach at his alma mater for 17 seasons.

“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. 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,” said Steve Levin, founding partner of Levin & Perconti. “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.”  

Allegations include forced naked acts, termed “bear-crawls,” “car-wash,” and “under-center snap”. Perhaps the most concerning is a ritual known as “running,” where eight to ten upperclassmen wearing masks would restrain a player and “dry-hump” them in front of the rest of the team. Other incidents include the “Gatorade Shake Challenge,” causing physical discomfort to the extent of sickness and vomiting. Furthermore, at least three former players have alleged a culture of racism within the program, with black coaches and players pressured to cut off longer hairstyles to fit the “Wildcat Way.”

“For many of the players, their exposure to this abusive culture began when they were being recruited at ages 16 or 17. They were just kids at that time,” said Margaret Battersby Black, managing partner at Levin & Perconti. “The school and its football coaches induced the parents to send their children to Northwestern because they were falsely assured the university and the coaching staff would look out for them and protect them. Unfortunately, that was not the case.”  

Northwestern University’s decision to keep the complete investigative report private has also drawn significant criticism. Such lack of transparency threatens to fuel further criticism and legal implications, particularly if it’s discovered the administration was negligent or complicit in any manner. 

“As we move forward in our legal efforts with Ben Crump, we pledge to fight for justice and accountability on behalf of all athletes participating in collegiate sports. If you or a loved one have suffered due to such abuse within Northwestern University’s football program or other collegiate sports programs, we urge you to reach out to our team of experienced attorneys who will guide you through the legal aspects of such incidents and ensure you receive the justice and support you deserve,” said Levin.