1st lawsuit filed against Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern leaders stemming from a hazing scandal

Former Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald stands on the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game in 2021 in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Michael Schill, President of Northwestern, attends the commencement ceremony on June 12 at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. (Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Northwestern Athletic Director Derrick Gragg gestures on Feb. 19 during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

A former Northwestern football player filed the first lawsuit against Pat Fitzgerald and members of the school’s leadership, seeking damages stemming from a hazing scandal that cost the former football coach his job.

The player, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe, alleged Tuesday in the Cook County Court in Chicago that Fitzgerald, Northwestern University President Michael Schill, the board of trustees and athletic director Derrick Gragg enabled and concealed sexual misconduct and racial discrimination.


The player, who was on the football team from 2018 to 2022, had his filing submitted by the Chicago-based Salvi Law Firm.

“It wasn’t just confined to one bad actor,” attorney Parker Stinar said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The lawsuit allegations include naked players in locker rooms forcing freshmen to also strip naked and then perform various acts. It also accuses Fitzgerald of enabling a culture of racism, including forcing players of color to cut their hair and behave differently to be more in line with the “Wildcat Way.”

Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates said the school’s policy is to not comment on the specifics of pending litigation.

In a letter to Northwestern’s faculty and staff, Schill wrote that an outside firm will be hired to evaluate how the school detects threats to student-athletes’ welfare and to examine the athletics culture in Evanston, Illinois, and its relationship to academics at the prestigious institution.

“In the wake of this unfortunate situation, my job is to work closely with you to not just restore trust in the athletic program, but to make it better and more closely integrated with our academic mission,” Schill wrote.

An emailed statement from Fitzgerald’s defense team quoted his lawyer, Dan Webb, as saying, “the complaint has no validity as to Coach Fitzgerald and we will aggressively defend against these allegations with facts and evidence.” Webb, a former U.S. attorney, has been one of the most sought-after private lawyers in the country for decades.

Fitzgerald’s agent, Bryan Harlan, declined to comment. A message seeking comment was left with Gragg.

More lawsuits, filed by multiple law firms, are expected to follow from former football and baseball players as well as from student-athletes who played other sports for the Wildcats.

Criminal charges are also possible.

Illinois, like nearly all states in recent decades, has criminalized hazing. It is typically a Class A misdemeanor, which can carry up to one year in prison.

At least eight former Northwestern football players have retained attorneys after recent revelations that led to Fitzgerald’s firing and sharp criticism of university leadership for its initial response to the allegations.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and the Chicago-based Levin &Perconti law firm have scheduled a news conference Wednesday morning in Chicago with former Northwestern athletes. Crump has represented the families of George Floyd and others in high-profile civil rights cases.

Stinar represented about 200 of the 1,050 people who shared in a $490 million financial settlement last year with the University of Michigan after saying they were sexually assaulted by a late sports doctor, Robert Anderson.

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