NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Two people who were members of the football team at Norfolk State University have filed federal lawsuits alleging they were hazed, sexually assaulted and harassed while in the program.
READ: Fahey Hazing Lawsuit | John Doe Hazing Lawsuit
The lawsuits, which were both filed June 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, name Norfolk State and its board of visitors as defendants. The lawsuit not only asks for a jury to find the university of violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, but also award the two former team members damages in the form of full scholarship payments, tuition and future harm caused by what allegedly occurred.
The first lawsuit was filed by Shawn Fahey. In early May, the former Norfolk State University football player from Virginia Beach held a press conference alongside Virginia Beach-based attorney Diane Toscano.
Fahey said he was sexually assaulted and hazed by his former teammates. He said the university knew about the issues in the football program but failed to act. He asked for other victims to come forward.
The second plaintiff is only referred to as “John Doe” in the complaint.
Both plaintiffs reported for practice with the Spartans in June 2021 and are being represented by Toscano. Both have recalled having several similar experiences.
“Norfolk State University had created a culture – spanning two coaching staffs – that enabled sexual assault and hazing of younger football players. The university did nothing to protect the Plaintiff even though it could have reasonably taken steps to prevent these events from happening,” the lawsuit filed by John Doe states.
The current head coach at NSU is former Southern University head coach Dawson Odums. He took over the program in 2021 after former head coach Latrell Scott left.
Fahey’s complaint includes fewer details than John Doe’s, but it says he was sexually assaulted and harassed during hazing rituals. He reported the incident to the coaches, but no reports were made to the Title IX coordinator, which is required by law.
Fahey’s mother emailed the university president about the issue, which prompted the university to act, but “even then, the university never advised Plaintiff of any steps that had been taken to protect him.”
Fahey left the football team and gave up his full tuition and housing scholarship following the assault. He also didn’t register for classes.
John Doe’s complaint references an upperclassman teammate named S.M., who was one of some team members who befriended John Doe.
After inviting John Doe to meals and parties with other players, hazing began.
The hazing started with “crotch-grabbing and voyeurism.” Some players would also be told to “size up,” meaning they exposed their genitals and compared the size to another person. Both complaints state the NSU coaching staff knew about the hazing and said the players “were doing it to each other.”
Later on, the hazing led to an attempted rape by S.M., the complaint states.
John Doe invited S.M. and others to his apartment on Aug. 15, 2021 to watch a movie. The complaint states S.M. then threatened to destroy items in John Doe’s bedroom.
The complaint says the threats were a way to lure John Doe into his bedroom. S.M. then attempted to rape him on the bed. The assault was stopped by another person who came into the room.
John Doe reported the incident to the head coach. The complaint made its way to the Title IX coordinator, but neither the coach nor the coordinator reported it to the NSU Police Department, the complaint alleges.
In a meeting days later, John Doe was offered the chance to move to on-campus housing with security outside of his door, however, no other interim measures were given.
NSU allegedly had knowledge of S.M.’s “violent tendencies” because he broke a dormitory door.
Football players also allegedly retaliated against John Doe, who was told to apologize to S.M. for ruining his chance to play football in his final year.
Both complaints allege the defendants violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972: Hostile education environment and deliberate indifference.
The lawsuits demand jury trials and judgments including:
- The court declaring NSU violated Title IX
- An injunction requiring NSU to use outside experts to create and enforce a comprehensive sexual harassment and hazing policy,
- Adopting a zero-tolerance policy for hazing and sexual harassment,
- Instituting an annual independent review by the Office of the President of the Athletic Department’s compliance with sexual harassment and hazing policies.
The lawsuits also ask for NSU to pay the plaintiffs’ full scholarships and tuition to NSU.
Toscano wouldn’t answer 10 On Your Side’s questions as to why the two players didn’t file police reports themselves. Nor would she address if the two left the team for any additional reasons.
Following Fahey’s press conference in early May, NSU released a statement to 10 On Your Side:
“Norfolk State University cares about the safety and well-being of every student, faculty, and staff member.
We have a “culture of care” at the institution, and we work diligently to address the needs of our community.
NSU is aware of allegations regarding the conduct of the NSU football program and immediately launched
an investigation when the matter was reported. Subsequently, NSU also acquired the services of an external consulting firm, Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger, Esq., PLLC. This firm specializes in investigating and adjudicating allegations of violations of Title IX including harassment, sexual misconduct, and assault.
The firm is currently investigating the allegations. The University is prohibited by federal law from disclosing any information about any investigations involving students. We acknowledge that this can make it difficult for members of the public wanting to know more information.
We encourage anyone with any information regarding sexual misconduct, harassment, or any form of
discrimination to please contact the Office of Institutional Equity at 757-278-4121.”