5th ex-football player files suit vs. Northwestern

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  • Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
  • Graduate of Northwestern University.

Former Northwestern linebacker Simba Short became the fifth ex-football player to file a lawsuit against the school, alleging he suffered emotional and psychological trauma after being hazed and bullied while in the program.

Short, who played at Northwestern in 2015 and 2016 before medically retiring, is the second former player to identify himself in a lawsuit against the school. He alleged he was sexually and mentally abused while in the program, especially after undergoing shoulder surgery. The lawsuit alleges that former Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald “knew or should have known that over time, ‘initiations’ and ‘traditions’ in the Wildcat football program had developed into a culture of violent, intimidating, sexualized abuse and hazing and extreme mental abuse.”

Northwestern fired Fitzgerald on July 10, three days after announcing the findings of a university-commissioned hazing investigation into the program. Fitzgerald initially was suspended for only two weeks, as an executive summary of the investigation stated that there was no evidence that he knew about the hazing incidents but did have the opportunity to learn about them and report them. Fitzgerald, who became head coach in 2006, has stated he had no knowledge of any hazing within the program.

Short’s lawsuit includes many of the same allegations as the claim filed by his former Northwestern teammate, Lloyd Yates, including the hazing ritual of “running,” where a group of players restrain one player and engage in dry-humping and other sexualized behavior. After returning to practice in the spring of 2016, Short alleges that older players told him he was “healthy enough to be ran.”

According to the claim, Short was fearful of being “ran” after seeing another freshman “dunked upside down in the ice bath while other players ‘ran’ him while he was naked, upside down with his head underwater.” Short alleges that despite his attempts to avoid upperclassmen, a small group of them restrained him in the locker room while one of them “ran” him.

The lawsuit states Short experienced a “mental health crisis” that led resulted in a self-harm incident and a hospitalization in 2016. He stated that after the hospitalization, Fitzgerald suggested that he medically retire from the program. Short returned to Northwestern in 2019 and finished his degree in 2021.

According to the claim, Short came to Northwestern with an injury history and was told he would need surgery shortly after his arrival. Short alleges he and other injured players were often bullied by coaches and players. The lawsuit does not name who bullied him.

“Simba was a target of verbal bullying from both player and coaches and was often referred to as an ‘eater and s—ter’ because his value to the team was nothing but consuming food and toilet space until he was healthy,” the lawsuit reads.

Like Yates, Short does not identify any Northwestern players who led or participated in the hazing activities in his lawsuit. Yates on Monday said he considered all Northwestern players “victims” of a culture where he said hazing became normalized — even those who led hazing rituals. Three unnamed former Northwestern players last week filed lawsuits against the school and current and former leaders, including Fitzgerald, current president Michael Schill and current athletic director Derrick Gragg.

“Simba entered Northwestern as an outstanding freshman, full of promise on the football field and in the classroom,” attorney Ben Crump said in a statement. “By the end of his freshman year, this abusive culture had broken him. We are seeking justice for him and other student athletes who were forced to live in fear and suffer at the hands of the university leadership. Simba is a hero of this MeToo movement of college sports, and we applaud him for stepping forward to tell his story.”

Crump, who is also representing Yates alongside the Chicago law firm Levin & Perconti, said he expected to file more than 30 lawsuits against Northwestern from former football players and athletes in other sports. Gragg told ESPN the school would investigate any hazing claims involving specific individuals, and that he was working to “eradicate” hazing from the athletic program.

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