New Mexico State to pay $8 million to settle hazing lawsuit

Former NMSU players file suit alleging sexual assault by teammates

New Mexico State agreed to pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit involving two basketball players who said they were sexually assaulted by teammates.

Terms of the settlement were released on the state’s open-records site Wednesday. Deuce Benjamin and his father, William, who was a co-defendant, will receive $4.125 million, while the other plaintiff, Shak Odunewu, will receive $3.875 million.

In agreeing to the settlement, the New Mexico State board of regents does not admit liability. The funds will come from a state risk-management insurance policy and is not expected to directly impact the school’s annual budget.

Benjamin’s attorney told The Associated Press the settlement was made in part to keep the players from having to relive their experience over what could have been a years-long legal process.

“To New Mexico State’s credit, they took the lawsuit very seriously,” Joleen Youngers said. “They obviously recognized that our clients had been harmed.”

Youngers said both players hoped to continue their basketball careers at other schools, but no solid plan was in place.

“I know there’s a powerful love for the game, but I know it’s taken a toll on them,” she said.

In addition to the regents, two coaches and three players were also released from liability in the lawsuit. The state attorney general’s office is looking into possible criminal charges in the case.

In their lawsuit, Benjamin and Odunewu described being ganged up on and assaulted on more than one occasion. Odunewu said one time, after seeing Benjamin being assaulted, he asked a coach to do something, and the coach responded by laughing and asking “What do you want me to do about it?”

Benjamin went to campus police after one of the assaults, which led to the abrupt cancellation of the 2022-23 season and the firing of coach Greg Heiar.

In a news conference to discuss the lawsuit in May, Benjamin and his father, a former Aggies star basketball player, said Heiar’s replacement, Jason Hooten, suggested to Benjamin that he find a new school.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to hit the reset button and lump in victims with everyone you’re getting rid of,” William Benjamin said. “Deuce was going to be an Aggie if he was good enough.”

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