The athletics department at Northwestern University is accused of creating a toxic culture of physical and sexual abuse of its student-athletes, a group of former football players claims.
Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump live-streamed a press conference on Wednesday (July 19), flanked by several former Wildcats, many of them students of color.
Players Say Speaking Against Abuse Affected Playing Time Added More Abuse
Crump said at least 50 former and current players –some still minors– have come forward. He specifically singled out the baseball, football, and softball departments as propagating this alleged culture of abuse.
“We were all victims,” one former football player said. “The culture was so strong, we had to go with it. There was a code of silence that was insurmountable to break.”
Speaking against the practice affected playing time and only added more abuse, the players said.
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A lawsuit has yet to be filed as of this article’s publication. Attorney Crump said they are still speaking with victims as more come forward.
— BlackAmericaWeb.com (@BlackAmericaWeb) July 17, 2023
Students Of Color Particularly Affected By Abuse: ‘We Had No Voice Or Power To Stop It’
As mentioned, the alleged abuse particularly affected students of color at Northwestern.
“Many of us were the first in our family to attend college,” another former football player said Wednesday. “This was our ticket to success. We had no voice or power to stop the abuse.”
Crump cited “extremely ritualized sexual behavior and hazing.” He mentioned “dry humping, groping, and forcing players to get naked” as common hazing tactics within the school’s Division 1 athletic programs.
“It was normalized,” Crump said. “Think of a 16, 17-year-old being recruited, and they would be shown these things. Many were minors when the abuse was inflicted on them… holding them down, dry humping them.”
He called the issue a “civil rights” one. However, they contained Wednesday’s press conference to the overall accusations from several Black and white players. In a press release to NewsOne, Crump, and attorney Steven M. Levin described some of the abuse described by former student-athletes.
“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.”
Northwestern Wildcats Head Coach Fired As A Result Of Internal Investigation Over Abuse Claims
Meanwhile, Crump said the school investigated the claims and concluded that the staff had “significant” opportunities to discover what was happening if they didn’t already know.
Last week, the university fired the Wildcats’ head football coach, Pat Fitzgerald. He was initially suspended as a result of that investigation, according to the Daily Northwestern. The investigation found that Fitzgerald had an “apparent tolerance” for sexual hazing. President Michael Schill published an open letter to the Northwestern University community afterward.
“The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team. The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing Coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening. Either way the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others.”
Northwestern University has parted ways with football head coach Pat Fitzgerald following student reporting detailing hazing and racism allegations https://t.co/B9Da60G6Bw
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) July 10, 2023
Warren Miles Long, who played running back for the school from 2013-2018, Simba Short, who played linebacker in 2015-2016, and Tom Carnifax, who played in the 2017 season, were three former student-athletes who spoke up at Wednesday’s press conference.
“Sexual assault was rampant,’ Long said. “Becoming freshmen, we had no reference point. We couldn’t question it too much, we thought it was weird, but everyone else was doing it.”