Allegations of hazing at Northwestern University spread Wednesday, as a second lawsuit was filed, former football players denounced the practice, and attorneys claimed that baseball, softball and volleyball players were victimized as well.

In response to the developing controversy, university officials announced new reviews of its “accountability mechanism,” to detect threats to athletes, and to examine the culture of athletics at the school.

Meanwhile, an attorney for fired football coach Patrick Fitzgerald said there were no substantive, detailed allegations about his involvement, and the school’s investigation found he had no knowledge of the hazing.

Four former players stepped forward at a news conference to publicly describe their experiences, expected to be part of a forthcoming lawsuit by at least 15 players on the school’s football, baseball and softball teams.

Former player Tom Carnifax said he hoped the suit would prevent other teenagers from being subjected to the same toxic environment he and his teammates encountered.

“That’s why I’m here in support. To hopefully not fix my trauma, but stop trauma from occurring in the future,” Carnifax said, adding that players who face hazing should take advantage of new rules that allow them to immediately transfer schools. “You shouldn’t just sit there and take it.”

Sexual abuse was rampant on the football team, former running back Warren Long said. The team’s culture became quickly normalized when players joined the team as incoming freshmen, he said. “We had no reference point,” Long added.

In an exclusive interview with the Tribune Tuesday, former Northwestern quarterback Lloyd Yates said the hazing included “ambushes” of dry-humping and forced “rituals” where teammates would make him and other players perform naked in front of others.

Yates said Wednesday his great-grandfather, father and older brother are Northwestern alumni. He attended football games as a kid and dreamed of joining the team, he said.

“However, the university and the football program has let us down,” Yates said. “Upon arrival to campus, we were thrown into a culture where physical, emotional and sexual abuse was normalized. No teammate I knew liked hazing. We were all victims, no matter what our role was at the time. But the culture was so strong that we felt we had to go with it to survive, to be respected and to earn trust.”

Yates alleged Wednesday some coaches took part in hazing, but declined to share more information on the matter. Many players feared retaliatory cuts to playing time or scholarship consequences for speaking up, he said. Some student athletes contemplated suicide as a result of the alleged hazing, he added.

Former Northwestern football player Lloyd Yates, second from left, arrives with attorney Ben Crump to speak July 19, 2023, alongside other former players about the abuse and hazing they say occurred in the program. Behind them, from left, are Warren Long, Simba Short and Tom Carnifax.

Attorney Ben Crump argued the hazing culture was rampant throughout the team.

“So, if the coach or coaches didn’t know, it would have to be malfeasance. It would have to be they were asleep at the wheel,” he said.

Crump and attorney Steve Levin said they have spoken with more than 50 former student athletes, including some who were minors when they were allegedly sexually abused.

A woman who played for a Northwestern team was allegedly “groped on and … solicited unwarrantedly,” Crump said.

The attorneys are talking with three more female athletes about other alleged hazing experiences, he added.

Crump, a civil rights attorney known for taking on high profile cases, said he plans to make the Northwestern hazing lawsuit a “landmark” case that sets a precedent for hazing incidents at college athletic programs across the country.

Levin called on the university to release the investigation it conducted into hazing allegations. University officials have so far only briefly described the findings that led Fitzgerald to be first suspended for two weeks and later fired.

Former Northwestern football player Lloyd Yates departs after speaking July 19, 2023, alongside other former players and attorneys Ben Crump and Steven Levin about the abuse and hazing they say occurred in the program.

A second lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Fitzgerald and the university, along with university President Michael Schill, former school president Morton Schapiro, the university board of trustees, athletic director Derrick Gragg, and former athletic director James Phillips, now the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

An earlier suit was filed Tuesday. Both suits were filed by Patrick Salvi, Jr., on behalf of two Black former players who remained anonymous. They claimed that African-American players were forced to cut their hair and conform to “Wildcat” behavior, along with the other hazing incidents.

The scandal broke July 7 when the university released an executive summary of an investigation of a student-athlete complaint of hazing in November 2022. The summary found that participation in or knowledge of the hazing was “widespread” in the football program” and “largely supported by the evidence,” with complaints dating back to 2014.

The next day, the student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, reported that two players described the hazing acts.

Meanwhile, a separate controversy surfaced involving the baseball team and first-year head coach Jim Foster, who was the target of a human resources investigation last fall that found “sufficient evidence” he “engaged in bullying and abusive behavior,” according to an internal HR document obtained by the Tribune. The probe went on to conclude that Foster “made an inappropriate comment regarding a female staff member, and spoke negatively about his staff to other staff members.”

On July 13, the university dismissed Foster.

Salvi Jr., said the accounts of athletes on different teams, combined with prior allegations of sexist mistreatment of former cheerleaders, suggests a widespread problem at the school.

“There clearly was not an effort to protect the student-athletes versus an effort to protect the university,” he said. “When that goes on as long as it has, eventually the dam breaks.”

Co-counsel with Salvi Jr. is Patrick Stinar, who has extensive experience with cases involving hazing or sex abuse at Michigan State and the University of Michigan.

Schill wrote Tuesday that the university is working to ensure accountability for its athletic department.

Northwestern does not comment on pending litigation, but spokesman Jon Yates cited a series of recent initiatives including monitoring the football locker room, anti-hazing training and an online complaint site, with more to come.

“We will engage an outside firm to evaluate the sufficiency of our accountability mechanism, and to detect threats to the welfare of our student-athletes,” Yates wrote. “We also will examine the culture of Northwestern Athletics and its relationship to the academic mission. Both of these reviews will be conducted with feedback and engagement of faculty, staff and students, and both will be made publicly available.”

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The two suits claimed Fitzgerald participated in the hazing, citing his use of the overhead clap as a signal.

But Fitzgerald’s attorney, former federal prosecutor Dan Webb, issued a scathing statement disputing the “broad-based, imprecise, and sweeping allegations.”

He emphasized that the university’s investigation found Fitzgerald had no knowledge of the hazing.

“Moreover,” Webb wrote, “the facts and evidence will show that Coach Fitzgerald implemented and followed numerous procedures and protocols to ensure that hazing would not occur, and he repeatedly emphasized to Northwestern’s student athletes that hazing was forbidden and, if anyone was aware — or was the victim — of hazing, that they should immediately report it so that he could stop it.”

Tribune reporter Jonathan Bullington contributed.

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