A former Northwestern volleyball player filed a lawsuit Monday in Illinois claiming that the school and its athletic department were negligent in response to a hazing incident that occurred in the spring of 2021.
The player, who filed her lawsuit anonymously, said she was injured while running sprints as part of a “punishment” sanctioned by coach Shane Davis, and that Davis “enabled a culture of racism, bullying, harassment, hazing and retaliation” within Northwestern’s volleyball program. Davis is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit along with the school’s two most recent presidents and three most recent athletic directors.
Her lawyers, Parker Stinar and Patrick Salvi, filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of Northwestern football players last week in the wake of the school firing football coach Pat Fitzgerald because of hazing accusations. They say they have spoken to athletes who played a variety of sports at the school, including football, volleyball, baseball and softball. Stinar said the experience of those athletes shows the pattern of a pervasive, schoolwide problem with hazing in its athletic department.
“Jane Doe’s complaint outlines the institutional failures at Northwestern beyond the volleyball and football programs, shedding light of a corrupt athletic department,” Stinar said in a statement provided to ESPN.
University spokesman Jon Yates told ESPN that the incident predates current school president Michael Schill and athletic director Derrick Gragg but “each is taking it seriously.” Yates said Northwestern’s leaders have hired a firm to evaluate the school’s methods of tracking accountability within the athletic department and detecting threats to the welfare of its athletes.
The volleyball player attended Northwestern from 2019 through 2023, according to the lawsuit. She said she contracted COVID in February 2021 and the coaches decided to punish her for breaking the team’s COVID safety guidelines. She said she followed the guidelines.
In early March of that year, according to the lawsuit, Davis told his team’s captains to pick a “punishment” for the player. The captains made the player “run suicide” sprints that included diving to the ground at each line on the gymnasium floor while her teammates and coaches watched. She said she was injured and required medical attention after completing the sprints.
The following day, Northwestern opened an investigation into hazing within the program, according to the lawsuit. Yates told ESPN on Monday that the school investigated and “confirmed that hazing had taken place.”
“Appropriate disciplinary action was taken,” Yates said in a written statement. “The University cancelled two games and implemented mandatory anti-hazing training.”
The player says the school did not share the final results of the investigation with her and did not punish any of the volleyball coaches or players.
The team did postpone two weeks of matches in early March 2021, according to the athletic department website. The two announcements say one weekend series against Michigan State was canceled because of COVID protocols and another against Wisconsin was postponed because of “a pause in Northwestern team activities.”
The player said she was isolated after the incident, and that Davis refused to properly coach her during practices. She said she met with current athletic director Derrick Gragg concerning the team’s culture during the 2021-22 academic year. According to the lawsuit, she remained on the team through December 2022 when she medically retired from the sport.