Survey Research Suggests Abuse of Student Athletes is Endemic on College Campuses
EVANSTON, Ill. –– Nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump and co-counsel Steven M. Levin, founding partner of Levin & Perconti, have been retained by 8 former student athletes who were subject to hazing, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at Northwestern University and are in conversations with many others.
From forced participation in humiliating acts and racial bias to punishments that inflicted severe physical discomfort and psychological trauma, the lawyers have uncovered a vast array of incidents of abuse in the Northwestern football program. The 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.
Attorney Crump, who also represented students who were sexually abused or assaulted at Ohio State and Michigan State, has been warning about endemic sexual abuse and harassment by authority figures on college campuses – and the toxic cultures that give rise to it – for several years. In 2021, he released a nationwide survey with the Lauren’s Kids foundation, documenting that 1 in 4 current and former college athletes say they endured inappropriate sexual contact from a campus authority figure, most often a coach. Student athletes were 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual abuse or harassment than other students.
“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,” Crump said. “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. It’s time for a reckoning to protect young athletes.”
The Northwestern hazing scandal first became public when the University announced on July 7th, that head football Coach Pat Fitzgerald had been suspended without pay for two weeks as a result of an independent investigation into hazing allegations in the football program. Northwestern retained an outside investigator, former Illinois inspector general Maggie Hickey, after receiving an anonymous email last November regarding the alleged hazing. In its statement on July 7th announcing Fitzgerald’s suspension, the University did not give any details regarding the nature or severity of the hazing.
The next day, on July 8th, The Daily Northwestern published an article about the alleged hazing detailing the actual brutal and barbaric abuses suffered by two anonymous team members. What they described went way beyond ‘standard’ hazing and was violent, degrading and sexual in nature. Two days later, Northwestern President Michael Schill announced Fitzgerald was fired after serving as head football coach at his alma mater for 17 seasons.
“These former Northwestern football players are participating in this legal action because they want to support and validate the allegations of abuse made by the two players who spoke to the Daily Northwestern about the true nature of the so-called hazing. 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,” said Levin. “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.”
Allegations include forced naked acts, termed “bear-crawls,” “car-wash,” and “under-center snap”. Perhaps the most concerning is a ritual known as “running,” where eight to ten upperclassmen wearing masks would restrain a player and “dry-hump” them in front of the rest of the team. Other incidents include the “Gatorade Shake Challenge,” causing physical discomfort to the extent of sickness and vomiting. Furthermore, at least three former players have alleged a culture of racism within the program, with black coaches and players pressured to cut off longer hairstyles to fit the “Wildcat Way.”
“One of the players was a minor, only 17 when he started playing for the Northwestern Wildcats. The others were 16 and 17 when Northwestern began recruiting them. They were just kids at that time,” said Margaret Battersby Black, managing partner at Levin & Perconti. “The school and its football coaches induced the parents to send their children to Northwestern because they were falsely assured the university and the coaching staff would look out for them and protect them.”
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.
ABOUT LEVIN & PERCONTI
Levin & Perconti is a nationally renowned law firm committed to protecting and vindicating the rights of people who have been injured due to systemic flaws and corporations choosing profits over people. The lawyers at Levin & Perconti are committed to protecting and vindicating the rights of people who are injured. The firm concentrates on all types of personal injury, physical and sexual abuse, medical malpractice, nursing home, and wrongful death litigation. Please visit www.levinperconti.com for more information.