Ex-Northwestern football players retain high-profile civil rights attorney after revealing hazing allegations

Eight former Northwestern football players have retained noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump regarding alleged abuse encountered during their time at the school. Pat Fitzgerald, who spent 17 years as head football coach, was fired this month after a university investigation revealed a toxic and harmful culture of hazing within the program. Some players alleged racism within the football program as well. 

Crump is one of the most recognizable names in the civil rights law world. He previously represented the families of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the victims of the Flint water crisis and many others. He will partner with Chicago attorney Steven Levin and law firm of Levin & Perconti. Crump also previously represented students who were sexually abused at Ohio State and Michigan State. 

“Whether the coaches at Northwestern approved or participated in the harassment of these players or not, they are responsible for enabling a toxic, disgusting and damaging culture in their programs,” Crump said in a statement. “Sadly, our research suggests 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.” 

Northwestern pursued an investigation into the hazing allegations in November 2022 after an anonymous player reported abusive behavior. On July 7, the university released an executive summary of the independent review and initially handed Fitzgerald a two-week unpaid suspension to be served immediately during the offseason. 

In the following days, Northwestern’s student newspaper interviewed multiple ex-players and published details of the hazing, including acts of alleged sexual abuse. Crump alleges one of the players involved was a minor when he began playing at Northwestern. Four individuals spoke with the Daily Northwestern, but the university acknowledged that 11 players corroborated the allegations during its independent review. Northwestern later fired Fitzgerald for cause after external pressure. 

“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,” Levin said in a statement.” 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.”

In addition to litigation with Northwestern, the lawyers plan to expand their case beyond the one program and both uncover and litigate “extreme and abusive hazing” in other athletic departments. Just days after Fitzgerald was fired, Northwestern axed baseball coach Jim Foster amid accusations of bullying and abusive behavior.