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New complaints filed against Northwestern over Kenosha football hazing scandal

By: Julie Lang//May 17, 2024//

Camp Kenosha

University of Wisconsin - Parkside located in Kenosha County, Wis. Former home to Northwestern University football training at "Camp Kenosha." Staff photo

New complaints filed against Northwestern over Kenosha football hazing scandal

By: Julie Lang//May 17, 2024//

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Last week, three former football players filed complaints in Cook County Circuit Court against Northwestern University and its former head football coach Patrick Fitzgerald as the school’s hazing and sexual abuse scandal continues to snowball.

The latest plaintiffs are all former Wildcats players who attended the school in different years, ranging from 2015 to 2023: former linebacker Nathan Fox, John Doe 10, and John Doe 22. The latter is also the anonymous whistleblower who made the first official complaint to the university in late 2022, detailing incidents of hazing and sexual abuse within the football program.

The whistleblower claimed that hazing often occurred in the Northwestern locker room and “may have started at ‘Camp Kenosha,’” the team’s preseason training practice on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, Wis.

 

According to an August 2019 piece by the university’s student paper, The Daily Northwestern, the football team had been making its annual sojourn to Kenosha since the early 1990s and that the tradition of “training, learning, and bonding” had “become an important part of the Wildcats’ culture.” UW Parkside in Kenosha County. Staff Photo

The recent complaint filed by Fox also states that several alleged hazing incidents happened in Kenosha during every year that he was on the team. Soon after enrolling and arriving at Northwestern, he and other freshmen became aware of what was being planned for them at Camp Kenosha.

Fox describes an incident in 2015 during a pre-season workout when a teammate bent over and allegedly taunted him with, “just wait for Kenosha.”

According to the complaint, once players were committed to Northwestern, they were introduced to what they soon learned would be a “culture of hazing and sexual abuse” during official and unofficial visits. Recruits were also told about the “Kenosha Rap Battle” and how it was a “forced, homoerotic, hazing tradition” where freshmen football players were paired up and forced to write “degrading and insulting raps” about each other.

The complaint presents alleged accounts of hazing, sexual abuse, and humiliation at Kenosha: “During their time at the Kenosha Camp, members of the Northwestern Football Program were subject to inappropriate activities within the Kenosha locker room, including but not limited to, the Shrek Clap, naked rope swings, naked pull ups, naked center and quarterback exchange, naked one on one drills, and naked pass rush drill.” The “Shrek Clap” was when upperclassmen would clap over the head of a football player who was to be stripped naked, indicating that a sexual hazing activity was about to commence. The complaint explains that the Shrek Clap “was used as a way to establish the hierarchy on the team and to force the players to get in line.”

After receiving the whistleblower’s complaint, Northwestern launched an independent investigation which was conducted by an outside law firm and led by Maggie Hickey, a former executive assistant U.S. attorney and inspector general of Illinois.

Notably, Fox’s complaint presents new allegations that several Northwestern employees, including football coaches and psychologists, were made aware of the hazing and sexual abuse incidents years before Hickey’s investigation and in some cases, even coaches were victims of the incidents themselves.

Although the investigation found evidence that largely corroborated the whistleblower’s claims, “including separate and consistent first-person accounts from current and former players,” it did not discover evidence to determine if anyone on the coaching staff knew about the alleged incidents. However, it concluded that there were “significant opportunities” for the coaching staff to discover or report the hazing activities.

Details of the investigation still remain confidential but the university immediately implemented several reformative actions which included placing Fitzgerald on a two-week suspension without pay and permanently discontinuing the long-held football practices at Camp Kenosha.

The Daily Northwestern published an interview with the anonymous whistleblower who gave an explosive account of the alleged hazing he experienced and witnessed and how some of it included nudity and coerced sexual acts. Two days later, Northwestern University President Michael Schill announced that Fitzgerald had been fired “for his failure to know and prevent significant hazing in the football program.”

Over the last year, multiple former football players have filed hazing, sexual assault, harassment and racial discrimination complaints against Northwestern and it had appeared that those cases were heading towards settlement. However, the group of attorneys representing the former players filed a motion to consolidate their cases with the $130 million breach of contract and defamation lawsuit brought by Fitzgerald for the discovery phase. They argued that the university’s attorneys had used confidential information during the mediation process to defend itself in the Fitzgerald case. A Cook County judge granted their request last month.

Margaret Battersby Black, an attorney with the law firm Levin & Perconti who is representing the latest plaintiffs, released the following statement regarding the new complaints:

“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. 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.”

The law firm also said that more former football players intend to file hazing-related complaints in the next several weeks.

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