▶ Watch Video: Northwestern football coach fired amid accusations of hazing in the program

Northwestern University’s athletics department fostered an abusive culture, former football players and their attorneys said Wednesday amid a hazing scandal that has rocked the private Chicago university and led to the firing of the school’s longtime football coach, Pat Fitzgerald, last week.

In a news conference Wednesday, prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump said he is representing more than 15 former male and female Northwestern athletes regarding allegations of hazing that “goes into other sports programs” beyond football. Crump said his law firm has spoken with more than 50 former Northwestern athletes.

“It is apparent to us that it is a toxic culture that was rampant in the athletic department at Northwestern University,” Crump told reporters.

Former Northwestern football player Lloyd Yates speaks on July 19, 2023, alongside other former players, from left, Warren Miles Long, Tom Carnifax and Simba Short, about the abuse and hazing they say occurred in the program. 

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Just three days after Fitzgerald was fired, Northwestern baseball coach Jim Foster was also dismissed by the school over allegations of bullying and abusive behavior.  

Speaking alongside Crump, former Northwestern quarterback Lloyd Yates, who was in the football program from 2015 to 2017 and played under Fitzgerald, said that he and his teammates were “thrown into a culture where physical, emotional and sexual abuse was normalized.”

Yates alleged that “there was a code of silence that felt insurmountable to break, and speaking up could lead to consequences that affected playing time and could warrant further abuse.”

Yates described the abuse as “graphic, sexually intense behavior” that “was well known throughout the program.” 

“Some players have contemplated suicide” as a result of the alleged abuse, he said.

Tommy Carnifax, who played tight end for Northwestern from 2016 to 2019, told reporters that he sustained multiple injuries during his Northwestern career, but that “coaches made me believe it was my fault I was hurt.”

“I spent the last four years hating myself and what I went through here, and this is the opportunity to possibly make a difference,” Carnifax said.

Crump said that his firm has yet to file a lawsuit in the case. However, a separate lawsuit was filed Tuesday against both the university and Fitzgerald alleging that hazing activities were “assaultive, illegal and often sexual in nature.” The lawsuit was filed on behalf of an unidentified player who was in the football program from 2018 to 2022.

A school investigation into hazing allegations was launched last December in response to an anonymous complaint.

Fitzgerald, who played linebacker for Northwestern in the 1990s, and had served as head coach since 2006, told ESPN after h was fired that he had “no knowledge whatsoever of any form of hazing within the Northwestern football program.”

Kerry Breen contributed to this report.