Three more former Northwestern players file hazing lawsuits

ByAdam Rittenberg ESPN logo
Thursday, May 9, 2024

Three former Northwesternplayers have filed lawsuits against the school and former coach Pat Fitzgerald, alleging hazing and mistreatment within the football program, including the initial whistleblower who sparked an investigation into the claims.

Former linebacker Nathan Fox, who played for Northwestern from 2015 to 2019, and two men identified as John Doe filed the lawsuits in Cook County circuit court this week. Both Fox and the whistleblower, identified as John Doe 22, spoke with attorney Maggie Hickey, whom Northwestern hired to investigate John Doe 22's allegations after they were first brought forward in late 2022.

Hickey's investigation found that the player's hazing allegations could largely be corroborated but that there was no evidence Fitzgerald and other coaches and staff members had knowledge of the incidents. After Hickey's investigation concluded, Northwestern suspended Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay. The whistleblower then went public with his allegations in the Daily Northwestern campus newspaper, and Northwestern president Michael Schill fired Fitzgerald two days later.

Fitzgerald in October filed a $130 million wrongful termination lawsuit against Schill and the school. His case is set for trial in 2025. A total of 25 former players have filed lawsuits against Northwestern, alleging hazing and other mistreatment.

Fox's lawsuit outlines many of the hazing allegations from previous filings, including "running" and other sexualized acts, many of which allegedly took place during the team's preseason training camp in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He said he reported his experiences to six Northwestern staff members, including a therapist in 2018 who had him sign an agreement allowing her to share his allegations with the athletic training staff. Fox said that shortly after, Fitzgerald chastised him in a team meeting for complaining of unfair treatment. Fox said an athletic trainer also called him out.

The lawsuit also states another Northwestern psychologist, upon hearing of Fox's hazing allegations, told him they weren't real and stemmed from a diagnosis of bipolar disorder that Fox has never received. Fox said the psychologist prescribed him medication that led to him contemplating suicide.

According to the lawsuit, he did not report the allegations after leaving Northwestern because of fear of retaliation, and went to Hickey upon learning of the hazing investigation into Northwestern football.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages in excess of $50,000. Northwestern is not commenting on pending litigation against the school.

"It is abundantly clear to us that numerous staff members knew about the violent sexual hazing and emotional abuse that was occurring under Northwestern's watch," attorney Margaret Battersby Black, whose firm is representing several plaintiffs, said in a statement. "Employees were told about the abusive hazing by some of the players including Nathan Fox, who brought the abuse to their attention years before the Maggie Hickey investigation. Instead of doing the right thing and reporting the abuse or taking steps to stop it, those who knew either ignored it or retaliated against those who came forward."

More lawsuits from former players are expected to be filed against Northwestern in the coming days.