Two former Norfolk State University football players filed federal lawsuits against the university Wednesday, alleging that they were hazed and sexually assaulted by upperclassmen on the team and coaches and staff ignored their complaints about the behavior.
Former player Shawn Fahey and another unnamed former player listed as John Doe each filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Norfolk against the university, its board of visitors and other unnamed people, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
The suits seek an order that the university create and enforce a “zero tolerance” sexual assault, harassment and hazing policy that also requires officials to provide victims with the assistance and protection they need. They also want to be compensated for benefits, including scholarships and tuition, that they gave up when they left the university to escape the “intolerable” conditions they say they faced.
The men who joined the team in June 2021 reported in their lawsuits that upperclassmen on the team repeatedly grabbed them by the crotch, stared at their penises when they urinated and displayed their own genitalia during video calls with younger teammates. The player listed as John Doe said in his lawsuit that an older player also attempted to rape him in August, but a teammate intervened to stop it. That incident occurred about a month after Fahey's July 8 email to head coach Dawson Odums reporting that multiple players touched him inappropriately and ignored his demands for them to stop, according to his lawsuit.
It wasn’t until the next day, when Fahey’s mother complained to university President Javaune Adams-Gaston, that an investigation began, the lawsuit said. That’s also when other players began retaliating against Fahey, according to his lawsuit. At a news conference last month, Fahey said coaches told him he was “risking his career” by reporting the allegations.
A university spokesman referred The Virginian-Pilot on Wednesday to a statement from last month when Fahey spoke publicly about his allegations that said an investigation was immediately launched after allegations were reported.
“Due to the persistent harassment and the culture of deliberate indifference by NSU and its coaches, Plaintiff chose to protect himself from further sexual assault and hostility by giving up his dream of playing college football and receiving a bachelor’s degree from NSU” and has remained in “educational limbo,” according to Fahey’s lawsuit said.
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The other player also left the team and the university months later. His claim didn’t state whether he is attending another school.