Northwestern accused of racial mistreatment, among other allegations by ex-Latino lineman
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In what is Northwestern University’s tenth lawsuit from an ex-player since the firing of coach Pat Fitzgerald after 17 years on July 10, former Northwestern football player Ramon Diaz filed a lawsuit against the Illinois school Wednesday, saying he was hazed and mistreated in the program to a great degree because of his race.
Along with Diaz’s allegations, the cases now span more than 15 years, from 2005 to 2022.
Diaz, a former offensive lineman for the Wildcats from 2005 to 2008, alleges that he was subjected to hazing that included the mocking of his Mexican heritage along with "microaggressions" from comments made by former offensive line coach Bret Ingalls, as well as sexualized acts that have previously been alleged by other former players.
A lawsuit announced on Diaz’s behalf on Wednesday is the 10th against the private university since student journalists at the Daily Northwestern published an article on July 8 that suggested head coach Fitzgerald may have been aware of hazing.
He claims several Northwestern coaches first-hand saw the hazing incidents or should have been aware of them. The lawsuit claims that two former assistants who were also offensive line coaches, made "racist, embarrassing, degrading, and harassing remarks" toward Diaz and other players.
According to the lawsuit, the two coaches, longtime Northwestern assistants still with the program, witnessed hazing incidents and "took no action to address and/or prevent" them from happening. Diaz also alleges that Adam Cushing, Northwestern's tight ends coach at the time, should have been aware of the hazing and mistreatment.
Diaz says he was 17 when NU upperclassmen shaved “Cinco de Mayo” onto the back of his head as the entire football team watched.
The former player said he was the only Latino offensive lineman and was during a time when the athletic department’s culture permitted racism and sexual abuse to occur, which as a result caused psychological and emotional damage to athletes of color.
“The holiday itself has a significant meaning to me and my family and then the Latino community at large,” Diaz told the Associated Press. “I was mocked and ridiculed.”
As a clinical therapist, Diaz said he felt the need to come out and vocalize his past experiences after reading a July 8 statement, attributed to the Northwestern football team, defending the coach and saying the allegations had been "exaggerated and twisted."
“The facts and evidence will show that Coach Fitzgerald implemented and followed numerous procedures and protocols to ensure that hazing would not occur, and he repeatedly emphasized to Northwestern’s student athletes that hazing was forbidden and, if anyone was aware – or was the victim – of hazing, that they should immediately report it so that he could stop it,” the statement said.
Diaz, who needed his football scholarship to afford college, said Bret Ingalls, the Wildcats’ offensive line coach at the time, telling him: “I know you grew up on dirt floors, but here we try to keep things clean,” and “Ramon, you can get a job easily in summer mowing the lawn or painting houses.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, the lawyer representing five former Northwestern athletes said he plans on filing over 30 lawsuits involving athletes from “a variety of athletic programs and even mascots.”
Diaz attempted suicide during this time because of the racism he endured and still needs treatment to process what happened. He called the psychological damage so damaging that it impaired his functioning throughout his time at the school.
“I just remember the laughter. No one stopped it. And the players felt enabled because of the atmosphere created by the coaches,” he said.
“The abuse is increasing and the behaviors are becoming more more severe towards the athletes,” and unless the university and the NCAA address the mechanisms enabling a damaging culture, “nothing will change,” he added.
The love he once had for the game also went as a result.
“I have not watched a full football game since I graduated Northwestern University,” he said. “Something was taken from me.”