‘To all the young athletes out there, I urge you to stand up.’ 4th lawsuit filed in Northwestern hazing scandal

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump spoke about the new lawsuit Monday afternoon on behalf of former student football player Lloyd Yates, Last week, Yates said that sexualized hazing was commonplace on the team.

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Flanked by attorneys and family members, former quarterback Lloyd Yates, 26, speaks during a news conference in River North to discuss a new lawsuit filed against Northwestern University alleging a culture of hazing and sexual abuse in the football program, Monday, July 24, 2023.

Flanked by attorneys and family members, former quarterback Lloyd Yates, 26, speaks during a news conference Monday in River North to discuss a new lawsuit filed against Northwestern University alleging a culture of hazing and sexual abuse in the football program.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Northwestern University’s hazing scandal widened Monday to include the fourth lawsuit filed by a former football player who alleged a culture of hazing and sexual abuse.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of former student football player Lloyd Yates, is the first to name the plaintiff. All plaintiffs in three hazing-related lawsuits filed last week were identified as John Does.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said he wants the lawsuit to kick off a “college sports Me Too movement.”

“It’s a big deal when these young people have the courage to take a stand and refuse to be victims anymore, refuse to have their voices silenced and to take a stand,” Crump said.

The 52-page complaint filed in Cook County court alleges Yates, 26, suffered frequent locker room harassment and unwanted physical and sexual contact. The lawsuit also alleges two assistant coaches were hazed in a ritual known as “running,” where players were held down naked as others rubbed their genitals against them.

Yates, who was a star football player at Oak Park-River Forest High School, said he wants justice for victims of the hazing and closure for himself and for players who “suffered in silence.”

“Too often many of us have blamed ourselves for things that were beyond our control,” Yates told reporters Monday.

He also said he wants protection for future players.

Former Northwestern University student football player Lloyd Yates.

Former Northwestern University student football player Lloyd Yates.

Provided

“We were conditioned to believe that this behavior was normal, which was sickening and unacceptable,” Yates said. “To all the young athletes out there, I urge you to stand up, stand up for yourself, even when the odds are against you.”

Crump says he plans to file more than 30 lawsuits on behalf of former players from other Northwestern teams, including one person who was a mascot.

The lawsuit gives examples of the alleged sexual hazing in the Northwestern football program.

Players were gradually introduced to hazing, first with passing references to “runnings” during school visits, to desensitize players and portray the behavior as acceptable, the suit states. Upperclassmen would allegedly hint at the hazing that would take place at the school’s training camp in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Upperclassmen who initiated the “runnings” were allegedly considered part of the “Shrek Squad.” To initiate the hazing, the squad would flicker the lights at the Kenosha camp and chant “Shrek is love, Shrek is life,” while playing the siren from the movie “The Purge,” the lawsuit states.

The “Shrek Squad” was allegedly inspired by a bizarre animated video, which freshman were forced to watch, about a man describing a sexual encounter with Shrek in his bedroom, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, other players were forced to participate naked in activities in the locker room, including rope swings, pull-ups and naked pass rush drills. Players who refused would be “ran,” the suit states.

Upperclassmen would begin what was called the “Shrek clap,” clapping in unison over a particular player’s head in the locker room, to indicate the player would be “run” later, the suit states.

The lawsuit does not name any of the alleged student perpetrators of the hazing because they were victims too, Yates’ lawyers said.

“We were all victims,” Yates said. “It was really a culture that you had to find a position within. And for some guys, that’s what their identity was. But they’re not at fault. They’re just as much victims as us.”

Yates’ father, William Yates, said he hopes the lawsuit puts other universities on notice.

“College years are supposed to be magical. And a lot of us, as we sit around and talk to our college buddies, we always reminisce. But yet it seems this is not the case for Lloyd,” William Yates said.

With his son and attorney Ben Crump (right) looking on, William Yates, father of former quarterback Lloyd Yates, speaks during a news conference in River North to discuss a new lawsuit filed against Northwestern University alleging a culture of hazing and sexual abuse in the football program, Monday, July 24, 2023.

With his son and attorney Ben Crump (right) looking on Monday, William Yates, father of former quarterback Lloyd Yates, speaks during a news conference in River North to discuss a new lawsuit filed against Northwestern University alleging a culture of hazing and sexual abuse in the football program.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Asked to respond to the new lawsuit, a spokesperson for Northwestern said the university has implemented locker room monitoring, anti-hazing training and introduced an online tool for reporting complaints.

Three lawsuits were filed last week by anonymous former NU football players who alleged similar abuse on the team. Those lawsuits were filed by the Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard law firm.

Salvi’s law firm said they were filing another lawsuit Monday on behalf of a female former volleyball player. It would be the first lawsuit to extend litigation beyond the school’s football team.

Lawyers have said the culture of hazing also included the volleyball, softball, cheerleading and men’s soccer teams.

The volleyball player, named “Jane Doe 1” in the pending lawsuit, said she was physically harmed to the point of requiring medical attention during a hazing incident in early 2021.

The allegations of Northwestern University’s hazing scandal became public July 7 when the school suspended head football Coach Pat Fitzgerald after a school-funded investigation into hazing allegations.

The next day, the school’s student paper, The Daily Northwestern, published an article detailing the alleged abuse by two unnamed former football players. The school fired Fitzgerald two days later.

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