The player identified in the legal action For example, John Doe alleged Tuesday in Cook County Court in Chicago that Fitzgerald, Northwestern University President Michael Schill, the Board of Trustees and Athletic Director Derrick Gragg facilitated and concealed sexual misconduct and racial discrimination.
The player, who was on the football team from 2018 to 2022, had his lawsuit filed with Chicago-based law firm Salvi.
“It wasn’t limited to just one bad actor,” attorney Parker Stinar said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It wasn’t limited to just one team, like the football team. This included a culture that was accepted, tolerated, and encouraged on the baseball team and other sports teams, and in men’s and women’s sports.
“So it’s a spoiled sports department.”
Among the lawsuit’s allegations is that naked players in locker rooms forced freshmen to also strip naked and then perform various acts. It also accuses Fitzgerald of promoting a culture of racism, including forcing black players to cut their hair and behave differently in order to conform more closely to the “Wildcat Way”.
Northwestern spokesman Jon Yates said it is the school’s policy not to comment on the details of pending litigation.
“Protecting the well-being of every student at Northwestern University is central to our mission and something we do with the utmost seriousness,” said Yates. “When the university became aware of anonymous harassment complaints in November 2022, we immediately worked with an independent investigator to conduct a comprehensive review of the allegations. We have taken a number of other measures to remove harassment from our football program and we will implement further measures in the coming weeks.”
Fitzgerald’s agent Bryan Harlan declined to comment, and the firm of Fitzgerald’s attorney, Dan Webb, said Tuesday that Webb had not commented. Webb is a former US attorney and has been one of the most in-demand private attorneys in the country for decades. His clients include several governors, Microsoft and tobacco giant Philip Morris.
A message was left for Gragg to comment.
More lawsuits are expected to follow from multiple law firms from former football and baseball players and student athletes who played other sports for the Wildcats.
At least eight former Northwest football players hired lawyers following recent revelations that led to Fitzgerald’s dismissal and slammed university officials for their initial response to the allegations.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Chicago-based law firm Levin & Perconti announced Monday that they have “uncovered a multitude of allegations of abuse within the Northwestern football program.” They also said more athletes are expected to join the court case and it will expand beyond Northwestern football to other collegiate athletic programs.
A press conference featuring Crump, former Northwestern athletes and attorneys from Levin & Perconti is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Chicago.
Crump has represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others in high-profile civil rights cases.
Stinar represented about 200 of the 1,050 participants a $490 million financial settlement with the University of Michigan last year after saying they were sexually assaulted by a deceased sports doctor, Robert Anderson. The attorney also had clients among the hundreds of victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and were part of a $380 million settlement in late 2021.
“It’s disgusting that this behavior is continuing into 2022,” Stinar said. “We have every intention of holding accountable those who were involved, who knew, who made it possible, and also hold the university accountable.”
Northwestern might join at some point a long list of American universities who have made large payouts following allegations of sexual abuse.
Fitzgerald was fired last week after a university investigation revealed allegations of harassment by 11 current or former players, including “forced involvement, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature,” Schill wrote.
Fitzgerald, who managed Northwestern for 17 seasons and was the Wildcats’ star linebacker in the mid-1990s, claimed he was unaware of the bullying. Fitzgerald said after his release he was working with his agent Bryan Harlan and Chicago defense attorney Dan Webb, who recently represented Fox News in a libel suit, to “protect my rights consistent with the law.”
After the school initially suspended him, The Daily Northwestern published an article including allegations by a former player who described specific instances of harassment and abuse that Fitzgerald may have known about.
“Based on the allegations we’ve seen and the reports we’ve seen, he (Fitzgerald) knew that sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, bullying and racial discrimination were occurring and agreed with them,” Stinar said. “He was aware of that. It happened under his roof. He knew what was going on and he allowed it to happen for years.”
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