Eight former Northwestern football players hire lawyer for possible hazing lawsuit

“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,” attorney Ben Crump said. “It’s time for a reckoning to protect young athletes.”

SHARE Eight former Northwestern football players hire lawyer for possible hazing lawsuit
Eight former Northwestern football players have hired civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

Eight former Northwestern football players have hired civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

Greg Nash/AFP via Getty Images

Eight former Northwestern football players have retained a prominent civil-rights lawyer and an injury attorney in the wake of the hazing scandal that has embroiled the Wildcats’ program and led to the dismissal of longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald.

‘‘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,’’ attorney Ben Crump said in a statement.

Crump rose to national prominence after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 by representing several families in cases of alleged police brutality.

Crump and his co-counsel, Steven M. Levin, are ‘‘in conversations with many others,’’ they said Monday, adding that future 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.’’

‘‘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,’’ Crump said. ‘‘It’s time for a reckoning to protect young athletes.’’

Earlier this month, a long-gestating independent investigation commissioned by the university found credible proof to hazing allegations in the football program but ‘‘did not uncover evidence pointing to specific misconduct by any individual football player or coach.’’

Just days after suspending Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay — and in the wake of an article from the student newspaper The Daily Northwestern detailing hazing-related activities inside the locker room — the school changed course and fired Fitzgerald for cause.

That decision has set up a possible legal showdown between Northwestern and Fitzgerald, who hired a Chicago-based attorney ‘‘to take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law,’’ he said.

The eight players who retained legal representation ‘‘want to support and validate the allegations of abuse’’ outlined in The Daily Northwestern story, Levin said.

‘‘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,’’ he said.

According to Crump and Levin, the former players have alleged incidents such as the ‘‘Gatorade Shake Challenge,’’ in which former players were forced to chug protein-heavy Gatorade drinks ‘‘to the extent of sickness and vomiting.’’

At least three of the former players have pointed to ‘‘a culture of racism within the program,’’ alleging that Black coaches and players felt pressured to change their hairstyles.

‘‘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,’’ Levin said.

NOTE: ESPN reported Northwestern freshman linebacker Nigel Glover entered the transfer portal Monday, the first Wildcats player to do so since the school fired coach Pat Fitzgerald on July 10 amid allegations of hazing in the program.

Glover was a four-star recruit and NU’s highest-rated prospect in the Class of 2023. He committed to play for the Wildcats in April 2022 and signed in December. Glover considered several other Big Ten schools, including Illinois, before picking NU.

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