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2 more former student-athletes sue Northwestern over alleged hazing

<i>Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images</i><br/>Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates said the school is working to ensure
Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates said the school is working to ensure "accountability" for its athletic department.

By Virginia Langmaid and Omar Jimenez, CNN

(CNN) — A former volleyball player has filed a lawsuit alleging hazing within Northwestern University’s women’s volleyball team – the latest accusation against the school’s athletic programs.

According to the lawsuit, filed Monday, a person who was listed as “Jane Doe” experienced “hazing, harassment, bullying and retaliation” as a member of the team, and sustained an injury while running suicides – an exercise where an athlete runs to every line on the court and back in quick succession – as punishment for allegedly breaking the team’s Covid-19 protocols.

Following the injury, in March 2021, the university conducted an investigation into the hazing allegation, according to both the filing and a statement from the school.

The investigation found hazing had taken place, canceled two games and instituted anti-hazing training, Northwestern said.

In the lawsuit, Doe alleges that following the investigation and through December 2022, she “never once played in a volleyball game at Northwestern.”

The filing alleges Doe was retaliated against for her role in the hazing investigation. Doe names Northwestern University, university president Michael Schill, former president Morton Schapiro, the school’s board of trustees, university vice president for athletics and recreation Dr. Derrick Gragg, former university vice president for athletics and recreation Dr. James Phillips, and head volleyball coach Shane Davis as defendants.

In a statement provided Monday to CNN, Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates said the school is working to ensure “accountability” for its athletic department.

“This includes the engagement of a firm to evaluate the sufficiency of our accountability mechanism and to detect threats to the welfare of our student-athletes,” Yates said.

Doe is seeking at least $50,000 in damages and a jury trial. As of Monday afternoon, a petition to file as a Jane Doe remained pending.

Former football player files lawsuit

Another lawsuit, filed Monday by former Wildcats quarterback and wide receiver Lloyd Yates, alleges he was subject to sexual assault by his teammates as part of ritual hazing.

Speaking to CNN’s Abby Phillip Monday night, Yates said he hopes that by coming forward, “this prevents any future athletes from going through what I had to endure and what many of my former teammates and colleagues had to endure.”

The suit alleges, in part, that the sexual abuse was directed at male players because of their sex “in an effort to ‘break’ them, punish them, control them or ‘get them in line,’” in violation of the Illinois Gender Violence Act.

Allegations within Yates’ lawsuit include that freshmen were subject to “naked drills” in the locker room at the team’s summer training camp in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

There are also allegations that upperclassmen would “run” freshman players – an activity where groups of older players were “forcibly holding down a non-consenting teammate and rubbing their genital areas against the teammate’s genitals, face, and buttocks while rocking back and forth without consent from the teammate,” according to the lawsuit. In one particular event described in the suit, a player was “run” while held upside down with his head underwater in a used ice bath.

Yates told CNN Monday student athletes “were forced to do acts in the nude as punishment and for other sorts of, kind of, initiation,” and described the experiences he had as “dehumanizing.”

“These were things that were just really graphic, especially” as a teen and young adult “who was just trying to fit in and make his mark in college sports,” Yates said.

In a statement provided to CNN Monday, the university said it was “taking steps” to address allegations of hazing.

“Shortly after learning the results of the independent investigation into hazing on the football team, the University announced a series of steps including the monitoring of the football locker room, anti-hazing training and the establishment of an online reporting tool for complaints,” a university spokesperson told CNN.

“These steps, while necessary and appropriate, are just the start, and we will be augmenting them in the coming weeks.”

Yates’ suit, which names Northwestern University as the defendant, is seeking at least $50,000 in damages.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Yates, told CNN Monday his legal team is “planning to file 30 more lawsuits in the days and weeks to come and these are lawsuits from the softball program, from the baseball program, even mascots talk about the hazing that they had to endure.”

“This is an institutional issue, it’s bigger than one individual, it was embedded in the culture of every athletic program at Northwestern University and we want to see them stop it,” Crump said.

Student athletes allege ‘toxic culture’

Last week, attorneys representing at least 15 former Northwestern student athletes announced plans to sue the university over allegations its athletics department fostered a “toxic culture” that facilitated harassment and sexual abuse.

And earlier this month, longtime head football coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired due to allegations of hazing in the Wildcats football program. An independent investigation commissioned by Northwestern prior to the firing found evidence of ongoing hazing that included “forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature,” university president Schill said in a letter.

Though the investigation found no “credible evidence” Fitzgerald was aware of the alleged hazing, the head coach is ultimately responsible for the team’s culture, Schill said. Fitzgerald has denied any knowledge of hazing in the program.

In a Monday email to the Northwestern community, Schill said the school is committed to protecting “students’ safety and well-being,” which “includes thoroughly investigating any instance or allegation of hazing or mistreatment.”

“That commitment includes creating processes and safeguards so that what happened in football can never happen again at Northwestern,” Schill wrote.

Editor’s Note: Omar Jimenez was a member of the men’s basketball team at Northwestern.

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