Former Northwestern football player Lloyd Yates filed a lawsuit Monday against the university, outlining what he alleged was a “brainwashing culture” of hazing and abuse that became “normalized.”
Yates, a former quarterback and wide receiver who played at Northwestern from 2015 to 2017, became the first plaintiff to identify himself in a lawsuit against the school.
Three unnamed former players last week filed complaints with a different set of attorneys, which name former football coach Pat Fitzgerald, current university President Michael Schill and others as individual defendants (Yates’ lawsuit names only the university). Noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is working with Yates, said at a news conference Monday that he expects to file more than 30 lawsuits from former Northwestern athletes (football and other sports) in the coming weeks and months.
“This will be acknowledged as college sports’ #MeToo movement,” Crump said. “We hope we will provide awareness around the issue and support to victims and the eradication of physical, psychological and sexual hazing.”
Yates’ complaint detailed several alleged organized hazing rituals at Northwestern that had been previously highlighted — namely “running,” where a group of players restrained a teammate and engaged in dry-humping and other sexualized acts — as well as new incidents. The complaint alleges that defensive backs coach and associate head coach Matt MacPherson, a Northwestern assistant since 2006, witnessed several alleged hazing incidents, including naked pullups during preseason training. MacPherson is also accused by a former player, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe 2, of showing a social media profile of John Doe 2’s girlfriend on a screen during a position meeting, commenting on her appearance and asking about their sexual experiences.
Northwestern is reviewing the claims made against MacPherson. After receiving allegations of hazing from a former player in November, the university initiated an external investigation that did not find evidence coaches knew of hazing incidents, but concluded that they had opportunities to learn of the incidents and report them.
“We are committed to do whatever is necessary to address hazing-related issues and ensure that our athletic program remains one that our entire community can be proud of and one that is fully aligned with and reflects our values,” the school said in a statement to ESPN.
Later Monday, in another statement to ESPN, Northwestern confirmed that “MacPherson has not been suspended. We continue to review the allegations and will take the appropriate measures based on the outcome of that process.”
The lawsuit also highlighted two instances in which coaches were victims of “running,” including an unnamed strength and conditioning coach during a training session in 2015 or 2016. Yates’ attorneys declined to say whether those coaches had been contacted to verify the claims.
After reading the 52-page complaint, Yates said he was “overcome with disappointment, frustration and shame.”
“No young teenager should have to bear what we did as freshmen students,” Yates added. “We were conditioned to believe that this behavior was normal, which was sickening and unacceptable.”
Later Monday, Fitzgerald’s attorney, Dan Webb, released a statement noting that the lawsuit “does not name our client as a defendant.”
“The complaint alleges that Northwestern negligently permitted the existence of a decades-long pattern, practice, and culture of football players engaging in the hazing of fellow athletes that involved physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. The complaint brings counts of negligence, gross negligence, and violations of the Illinois Gender Violence Act,” Webb wrote.