By Melissa Alonso, Virginia Langmaid and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN
(CNN) — Former Northwestern University offensive lineman Ramon Diaz is suing the school and its recently fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald over allegations of racism and hazing during his time on the team – joining a succession of similar accusations against the university’s athletic programs.
“My experience playing football at Northwest University haunts me to this day. I never will forget the mistreatment that I experienced for those four years,” said Diaz, who is Latino, at a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday.
Diaz was a member of Northwestern’s football team from 2005 to 2008. He was among three former football players included in a report last month by the university’s student paper The Daily Northwestern which described a pattern of racism and hazing in the program detailed by the athletes.
“The social pressure and hazing on Northwestern’s football team was so severe that even unwilling participants were forced to conform to a culture of abuse, racial discrimination, bigotry, and sexual exploitation in order to be part of the ‘Wildcat family,’” states the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday.
The suit also names the university’s board of trustees and former vice president of athletics and recreation James Phillips, who left the university in 2021.
Fitzgerald, the Wildcats’ longtime head football coach, was fired last month after an independent investigation commissioned by the school found evidence of ongoing hazing within Northwestern’s football program, university president Michael Schill announced. Diaz’s attorney, Parker Steiner, said Wednesday that Fitzgerald’s termination was “probably the first step in changing the culture” but demanded that the university release the full investigation before the start of its football season in September.
As Northwestern faces several other lawsuits brought by former student athletes alleging hazing or abuse within their teams, the university announced Tuesday that former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch will lead an independent review of its athletics departments’ culture and accountability mechanisms.
Among the other athletes suing the university is former Wildcats quarterback Lloyd Yates, who alleges he was subjected to sexual assault by his teammates as part of ritual hazing. Yates’ attorney, Ben Crump, has told CNN his legal team is planning to file dozens more lawsuits against the university alleging abuses across several of its teams.
The lawsuit brought by Diaz says the player was forced to participate in a hazing tradition known as a “car wash” in which he was forced to rub against the naked bodies and genitalia of other teammates in order to enter the locker room showers.
Diaz said Wednesday that his father’s humble upbringing “living on dirt floors” in Mexico was used against him by other players as bigoted insults.
“I’m proud to be my father’s son and I am a Latino-American,” said Diaz. “The harsh living conditions my father endured reminds me of the virtues he instilled into me: character, integrity and resiliency.”
Diaz and his attorney also detailed an incident in which teammates forced Diaz into a chair and shaved the words “Cinco de Mayo” into the hair on the back of his head.
Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates said in a statement to CNN, “There is no place for hazing at Northwestern.”
“We will review any specific allegation involving current coaches or players and will take the appropriate disciplinary actions based on the facts,” Yates said. He did not respond to CNN’s inquiry about whether the investigation that led to Fitzgerald’s firing will be released to the public.
“We are committed to do whatever is necessary to address hazing-related issues and ensure that our athletic program remains one that our entire community can be proud of and one that is fully aligned with and reflects our values. As President Michael Schill shared recently, the University will redouble its efforts to safeguard the welfare of each and every student-athlete at Northwestern,” Yates added.
Diaz said that he began seeking mental health treatment in 2007 due to his experiences at Northwestern and that he attempted to kill himself that same year.
“I have not seen a football game in over 10 years because of what happened to me,” Diaz said. He added, “I believe the NCAA has to get involved. I believe that the governing bodies here need to be held accountable.”
Diaz now works as a clinical therapist trained “in the areas of complex trauma” and treats patients who have also experienced traumatic incidents as student athletes.
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