Complaint on behalf of former quarterback Lloyd Yates identifies Northwestern football coaches who allegedly witnessed and failed to report hazing, sexual conduct, and forced sex acts
Chicago, Ill. – Renowned civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump and co-counsel Steven Levin and Margaret Battersby Black of Levin & Perconti today filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of former Northwestern quarterback Lloyd Yates, alleging he suffered frequent locker room harassment, unwanted physical, and sexual contact, and other tortious and humiliating acts that have caused psychological trauma that continues to impact his life.
The lawsuit is the first of what’s expected to be a series of filings on behalf of Northwestern players – and potentially may extend to players who attended colleges across the country plagued by cultures of hazing. “This is the ‘MeToo’ moment in college athletics – it’s the opportunity to eradicate hazing and abuse in college athletic programs from coast to coast, thanks to brave men and women who have the courage to speak out,” Crump said.
Yates played football for Northwestern from 2015-2017. The lawsuit details three counts of negligence, willful and wanton disregard for player safety and well-being, and violation of Illinois’ Gender Violence Act.
The suit alleges that Assistant Coach Matt MacPherson witnessed the hazing, sexual conduct, and forced sex acts and failed to stop them or report them to the University – all in violation of Northwestern’s own anti-hazing policy.
According to the complaint, two other assistant coaches who were not named in the complaint to protect their identities, participated in the hazing as recipients of forced sexual conduct. Other coaches and staff are accused of disregarding obvious raucous, hazing, and sexual acts they heard or observed.
Although Yates is the only plaintiff, four former Northwestern players are quoted in the complaint – Warren Miles Long, Simba Short, and two John Does, including one player who was a minor when he was first sexually abused and who suffered an injury as a result of the violent hazing. In graphic and damning detail, the complaint provides example after example of the vast and violent nature of the sexual hazing and sexual abuse in the Northwestern football program. The different types of hazing had specific rituals and colorful names including, “Carwash,” “Kenosha Rap Battle,” “Belly Flop Contest,” “Runsgiving/Runsmas,” “Shrek Squad,” “Trading Block,” The Dredge,” and “Bus 2 Stories.”
Crump said the “sickening and rampant sexual assault” suffered by hundreds of Northwestern football players as an effort to “break” them, punish them, control them, or get them in line resulted in lasting trauma and mental health issues. “We commend Lloyd Yates for being the first plaintiff to put a public face to the legal action. It is not easy. But many more lawsuits are coming. The code of silence has been broken.”
The complaint alleges that following the firing of head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, many players, including Yates, received messages from current coaching staff instructing that support for Coach Fitz should be shown by the team members. Even after NU’s own internal report indicted the school for hazing in the football program, the ‘Fitz faithful’ are an intimidating presence for former team members wanting to come forward. Many former players believe that speaking out will result in Fitz or other coaches derailing their careers, according to the complaint.
“It was Northwestern University’s duty to oversee the football program, protect student athletes and make sure its own anti-hazing policy was enforced. The University failed miserably,” said attorney Levin, founding partner of Levin & Perconti. “Northwestern has a lot to answer for. With this lawsuit, we are holding the University accountable so this heinous and abusive hazing never happens again.”
According to the complaint, Coach MacPherson witnessed players being forced to do naked pull-ups among other forms of hazing. Assistant Coach Jay Hooten allegedly tricked Yates into saying his teammates had been out partying. Hooten then told his teammates that Yates had “ratted them out,” which resulted in him getting “run” in the locker room. A “run” or “running” consists of a group of players 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.
The complaint also alleges that another player was dunked upside down in the ice bath while other players “ran” him while he was naked, upside down with his head underwater. When it was over, the player was clearly struggling physically to breathe.
According to the complaint, Coach Fitzgerald had ample opportunity to observe and know about the hazing and that he was aware that hazing was dangerous and wrong. The complaint quotes an anti-hazing public service announcement Fitzgerald filmed where he said, “Northwestern number one is, there is a zero tolerance for hazing. There’s no reason why to ever have it.”
The complaint claims this kind of messaging was consistent with the presentations that Fitz would give to incoming players and families at their dining room tables in an effort to convince them to attend NU to play football.
“Coach Fitzgerald publicly talked a good game while all along turning a blind eye to the hazing horrors that were happening right under his nose in his own program,” said Margaret Battersby Black. “When Coach Fitzgerald made recruiting visits, he told players and their parents that they would be safe. Northwestern was making a lifelong commitment to them. He compared it to a marriage and said that Northwestern would open doors for them beyond football if they joined the team and they would be set for life.”
Yates was a three-year starting quarterback at Oak Park River Forest High School. Northwestern began recruiting him when he was 15. Like many Northwestern recruits, he had multiple scholarship offers. His great grandfather, father, and older brother went to Northwestern. His family was thrilled when he committed to play football at Northwestern.
“We thought very highly of Northwestern and the coaches at the time. We thought Northwestern was better than most college football programs and a school that respected student athletes. In a million years, my husband and I never could have imagined our son or any other player would have been subjected to this type of sickening hazing and trauma,” said Dr. Isaure Yates, Lloyd’s mother. “Words cannot describe what a betrayal of trust this has been for our family and so many other families as well.”
The complaint also includes allegations of cruel and abusive behavior toward injured players and alleges some coaches would often make inappropriate comments about players’ race, and stereotyped them according to race.
ABOUT BEN CRUMP LAW
Through his work, nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump has spearheaded a legal movement to better protect the rights of marginalized citizens. He has led landscape-changing civil rights cases and represented clients in a wide range of areas including civil rights, personal injury, labor and employment, class actions, and more. Ben Crump Law is dedicated to holding the powerful accountable. For more information, visit bencrump.com.