In a lawsuit filed in United States District Court last Friday, ex-Virginia receiver Aidan Howard alleges that the football program promoted a culture of “bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination,” one which forced him into a staged fight with another player that left him with a broken eye socket.
Howard also alleged that he was routinely mocked and humiliated by his teammates, ostracized for a learning disability, and routinely called “retarded.” He eventually left the program and transferred to Robert Morris. Howard is suing the University of Virginia and six individual defendants on six counts, including violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and Title IX. ESPN first reported on the lawsuit this evening.
Howard say that the trouble started for him almost immediately when he went to summer school at Virginia and other players bullied him because he wasn’t manly enough. He named Doni Dowling and David Eldridge as defendants in the suit, and said that they targeted him because they thought he was soft.
Coaches allegedly did nothing to stop any of the harassment, and the suit says that wide receivers coach Marques Hagan set the tone by harassing Howard himself. Howard says that on August 12, 105 people watched Howard and Hassis DuBois have a staged prize fight in the locker room. Graduate assistant Famika Anae was present and prevented players from recording the fight on their phones. Howard eventually left the fight with a concussion, and as he found later, a broken orbital bone.
Howard transferred from Virginia, but only after the football program allegedly ignored him for a week until his father asked for a release from the program. In addition to the fighting and the bullying, Howard alleges that freshmen were forced to participate in “wrestling matches while naked or partially naked.”
A Virginia spokesman told ESPN that the school was investigating the allegations, but would not comment on them.
University spokesman Anthony P. de Bruyn wrote in an email that the school was aware of the allegations and “has made all of the required external notifications in accordance with state law.” He continued, “The university has been actively investigating these reports consistent with its obligations under the law and university policy,” but would not comment on ongoing litigation. The two football players did not immediately respond to a request for comment.