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Northwestern football hazing rituals included 'Shrek claps' and naked human 'carwashes,' ex-player alleges in lawsuit

It's the first civil action taken since longtime Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired last week.
Pat Fitzgerald runs off the field during a game between the Northwestern Wildcats and Wisconsin Badgers in Evanston
Pat Fitzgerald runs off the field during a game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Wisconsin Badgers in Evanston, Ill., on Oct.8. Michael Reaves / Getty Images file

A former Northwestern University football player accused former coach Pat Fitzgerald and the school Tuesday of tolerating hazing — alleging rituals involving a naked human "carwash" and a punishment called "Shrek claps" — in the first lawsuit filed since the scandal rocked the Big Ten university.

Fitzgerald and school leaders "endangered, enabled, and concealed the exploitation" of student-athletes under Fitzgerald's supervision and took no action against "credible reports of hazing, dating back to 2014," plaintiff's attorney Patrick Salvi wrote in the lawsuit.

The John Doe civil action was filed in Cook County Court in Chicago. The plaintiff was a student at the prestigious school just outside Chicago from 2018 to 2022.

Northwestern's football program "has had longstanding issues involving hazing and bullying that takes on a sexual and/or racist tone," the civil action says.

The lawsuit goes into troubling detail, outlining rituals it alleges were carried out within the program, on campus and at the team's preseason training camp in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Many of the acts included forced nudity, touching and "dry humping," the lawsuit says, alleging that Fitzgerald "took part in the harassment, hazing, bullying, assault and/or abuse of athletes."

Fitzgerald was fired last week amid allegations that he failed "to know and prevent significant hazing in the football program,” said university President Michael Schill, who is named as a defendant in Tuesday's lawsuit.

Among the institutional acts the lawsuit alleges were carried out in the football program:

  • "Running": A punishment that "consisted of 8-10 upperclassmen, dressed in masks, holding down a player, and dry humping the player in a dark locker room."
  • "Shrek claps": When "upperclassmen on the team would run around" a player who made a mistake in practice "while clapping their hands above the head" of the teammate.
  • "Carwash": A "tradition" that consisted of "players lining up, standing naked, and spinning around the entrance of the showers so that all freshman players were forced to rub up against the line of men to get to their showers."
  • "Naked center-quarterback exchange": Another "tradition" that called for freshmen to execute a routine center-quarterback snap while both were naked.
  • "Gatorade shake challenge": When freshmen were forced to drink as many Gatorade shakes as possible in 10 minutes, and if they refused they would be subjected to "running."

Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday but insisted that the school takes student welfare seriously.

"As policy, we do not comment on the specifics of pending litigation," Yates said in a statement.

"Protecting the welfare of every student at Northwestern University is central to our mission and something we approach with the utmost seriousness," he said.

The school learned about hazing complaints within the football program in November and "acted immediately with an independent investigator to conduct a comprehensive review of the allegations," Yates said.

"We have taken a number of subsequent actions to eliminate hazing from our football program, and we will introduce additional actions in the coming weeks," he said. "The administration is committed to working alongside the Board of Trustees, the faculty, and the student body to ensure that hazing has no place at Northwestern."

Fitzgerald's attorney Dan Webb said in a statement on Tuesday night that the lawsuit "has no validity as to Coach Fitzgerald and we will aggressively defend against these allegations with facts and evidence.”  

The civil complaint failed to draw any lines between alleged abuse and Fitzgerald, according to the coach's representative.

"Again, we look forward to defending Coach Fitzgerald and taking all steps necessary to protect his legal rights, name and reputation," Webb said. 

Days after Fitzgerald was let go, Northwestern fired baseball coach Jim Foster.