Former Penn State Football Player Files Lawsuit Alleging Sexual Hazing

Image: Football Game at Penn State, State College, Pennsylvania, Jeremy Kahn, Flickr.

Background

On January 13, 2020, former Penn State football player, Isaiah Humphries, filed a lawsuit against the school, Head Coach James Franklin, and former teammates at Penn State.  This suit comes just years after the Penn State scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, Penn State’s retired defensive coordinator.  In 2012, Sandusky was convicted of sexual assault of multiple young boys, and was sentenced between thirty and sixty years in prison. In the wake of Sandusky’s conviction, the University was also accused of covering up his actions.  This led the NCAA to impose harsh penalties against the team, and eventually led to the dismissal of Joe Paterno, the head coach at the time.  Additionally, the University paid over $100 million to the victims of Sandusky’s attacks.

Allegations in the Complaint

Humphries’ suit alleges that his teammates at Penn State committed acts of violent, sexual hazing.  In particular, the suit names Humphries’ former teammates Damion Barber, Micah Parsons, Jesse Luketa, and Yetur Gross-Matos, and claims that they carried out a scheme to haze underclassmen on the team.

When the hazing occurred, Humphries claims that the above mentioned players made unwanted sexual advances.  For example, the complaint alleges that players imitated sexual acts toward younger players while in the shower. The complaint also asserts that the named players would restrain, taunt, and engage in mock sexual acts with younger players.  Humphries also claimed that the players even made other threats, like saying “I am going to Sandusky you.  According to Humphries, the older players together coordinated, took part in, directed, and facilitated “a campaign to harass and haze lower classmen members of the Penn State football team.  These forms of hazing allegedly occurred at several different places on campus, and according to Humphries, several football coaches witnessed the hazing, but did not stop it or report it.

The lawsuit also alleges that after Humphries and his father reported these acts, Head Coach Franklin forced him out of the program.  After he reported the abuse to Franklin, Humphries claims that the football staff became extremely critical of his football performance and that the staff forced him to participate in drills that would sabotage his performance.  Humphries claims that once he brought the allegations forward to the coaches, he was retaliated against.  The coaches and football team’s academic adviser made him feel ashamed, he was denied medical treatment for his anxiety and narcolepsy, and other players on the team made him feel unwelcome.  In the complaint, Humphries states that the assault forced him to give up his football scholarship and spot on the team at Penn State.

As a result, Humphries transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where he now plays football.  When Humphries announced he was leaving, he thanked the coaches and staff at Penn State, but he did hint that he was leaving because of a bad experience when he said “in order for me to grow and not lose the passion that I have for football and for everything that I value, I unfortunately will be transferring from this place.

Penn State’s Role

Prior to filing the lawsuit, the school’s Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response and Office of Student Conduct had conducted an investigation.  The investigation found that the Humphries’ ex-teammates had engaged in “prohibited behavior.”  As a result of this finding, one player, Damion Barber, was sanctioned; however, the complaint does not detail how he was punished. Barber, though, was suspended for the 2019 season opener, which the team claimed was due to an unnamed violation of the team’s rules.  Other than this suspension, no action was taken by the school or the football team.

Additionally, although Penn State police had conducted an investigation, and although the University conducted extensive interviews, it found nothing that suggested anyone had been hazed or that substantiated Humphries’ claims.  When the police interviewed members of the football team, coaches, and others, everyone interviewed denied that hazing had occurred.  In fact, everyone interviewed said that the conduct that actually took place was just horseplay and that everyone was just joking around.  The University police ultimately turned their findings over to the local district attorney, and the district attorney decided not to prosecute

In the suit, Humphries requests financial damages that resulted from the University, Franklin’s, and his former teammates’ negligence.  These damages would include financial loss that resulted from the impairment to his football career as well as the physical and emotional pain that the incident caused him.  Humphries is also suing his former teammates for conspiracy, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

What is the Likely Outcome?

In the wake of this lawsuit, it is likely that Penn State will face severe backlash from the allegations that the coaching staff and administration knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it.  Especially in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal, Penn State’s football program is already on thin ice, and should have been doing everything they could to ensure compliance will all rules, including reporting.  Because the Sandusky scandal just occurred and the public has not forgotten about it, the public will likely believe Humphries’ allegations that the school ignored his complaints and may even assume that the school and football program tried to cover up the hazing.

Additionally, because the public does not trust Penn State, Humphries has a good chance of winning his lawsuit.  The court will not want to let Penn State get away with another incident of sexual assault and will likely do everything in its power to protect victims of such abuse.  Additionally, the specific allegations of hazing outlined in the complaint are horrific and will likely be very compelling in court, as long as they can be proven to be true.  Humphries will also be a believable and sympathetic plaintiff, because he and his father both reported the abuse and the abuse was then covered up and Humphries was retaliated against after reporting it.  In conclusion, the lawsuit will likely move forward and it seems as though Humphries will come out on top. But because the lawsuit was just filed last month, there is still a long road ahead before it will come to an end.

Taylor Rabb, Staff Editor

 

Image: Football Game at Penn State, State College, Pennsylvania, Jeremy Kahn, Flickr.

 

References

Associated Press, Penn State players were told, ‘I’m going to Sandusky you,’ during hazing, suit claims, LA Times (Jan. 14, 2020) https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2020-01-14/penn-state-hazing-sandusky.

David K. Li, Lawsuit says Penn State football players threatened to ‘Sandusky’ teammates in hazings, NBC News (Jan. 14, 2020), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/lawsuit-claims-penn-state-football-players-threatened-sandusky-teammates-hazings-n1115511.

Mark Scolforo, Former Penn State football player sues the school and coach James Franklin, alleging hazing of a sexual nature by teammates, Chicago Tribune (Jan. 14, 2020), https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/college/ct-penn-state-football-hazing-lawsuit-20200114-y64nd3pm5ffhbja45wn6yziikm-story.html.

Penn State Football Poised to Fight Through More Adversity With New Lawsuit (updated), SB Nation (Jan. 14, 2020), https://www.offtackleempire.com/2020/1/14/21065687/penn-state-football-lawsuit-sandusky-sexual-assault-james-franklin-controversy-hazing-scandal.

Sam Ruland, Ex-football player sues Penn State, claims team hazing included ‘I am going to Sandusky you,’ USA Today (Jan. 14, 2020), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports
/ncaaf/bigten/2020/01/14/penn-state-football-isaiah-humphries-hazing-lawsuit-names-james-franklin/4467518002/.


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