Ramon Diaz hasn’t watched a football game in more than 10 years, since he abruptly left Northwestern University’s football team in 2008. Wednesday morning, standing in a room of reporters, Diaz, a former offensive lineman, detailed why he didn’t return for his fifth season, why he snuck into the locker room to retrieve his belongings, and why he didn’t tell his coaches he’d decided not to return. He chose not to walk in his graduation ceremony.
“My experience playing football at Northwestern University haunts me to this day. I will never forget the mistreatment I experienced in those four years,” Diaz said. “The abuse I suffered emotionally is impossible to measure.”
Diaz, 36, is the ninth former Northwestern football player to file suit against the University — and the 10th student-athlete to do so — alleging that his time in the football program at the school was rife with “hazing, sexual and physical abuse, racial discrimination, and other dehumanizing acts,” according to his lawyers, Patrick Salvi II and Parker Stiner.
“I believe (former Northwestern Offensive Line Coach) James Patton groomed me as a high school junior and senior to persuade me and my family that my well-being would be prioritized while I played football at Northwestern,” Diaz told reporters. “I believe parents are being betrayed at Northwestern University by coaches, staff, trainers, and people in administrative roles.” Diaz went on to say that at Northwestern, “predators are disguised as coaches.”
Diaz told reporters that he understands the public fascination with the more prurient hazing acts, like the “car wash,” where Diaz alleges that freshman players were forced to pass naked, through similarly nude upperclassmen, in order to take a shower. “Their genitalia would be up against mine,” Diaz said. “I was not prepared for the magnitude of what would happen to me physically and emotionally.”
But Diaz, who is Latino, stressed the alleged racism and bigotry within Pat Fitzgerald’s football program affected him just as greatly, recounting how he was forced into a chair by upperclassmen, while his teammates shaved the words “Cinco de Mayo” into the back of his head. “Why that symbol? Why me? They could have chosen anything, and that’s what they decided to do. People watched, and no one did anything. (Former Asst. Coach) Adam Cushing was there and joined in the laughter.” Cushing is currently the offensive line coach at Duke University.
Diaz also alleged that football coaches made racial comments during his time on the team.
As a result of the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of those in and around the football program, Diaz is currently working as a clinical therapist specializing in complex trauma, though he is pursuing his Ph.D. at another school. He hopes to one day work as a professor. Diaz says his career in mental health is a direct result of the trauma he says he experienced under former coach Pat Fitzgerald, going so far as to consider taking his own life with painkillers. “Even after I began to see a psychologist on campus in 2007, the abuse, alienation, and racism did not stop.”
“Lying to evade accountability must not be accepted,” Diaz said. “What you are seeing right now is a significant effort to discredit victims of abuse, undoubtedly re-traumatizing most of them, if not all of them.
“Mechanisms are in place that maintain racism, bigotry, mental and emotional abuse (at Northwestern), that I think goes on across the country in sport programs. College athletes every day suffer hazing in the form of mental and sexual abuse, racism, and bigotry. I believe the NCAA has to get involved, the governing bodies here need to be held accountable.” Diaz pleaded with parents and families to get involved with their children’s sports programs, saying incidents like those he claims to have suffered are widespread.
“No one has the right to violate your human dignity. No one has the right to devalue anyone else because of your race, ethnicity, or skill level,” Diaz told reporters.
Though the University announced yesterday that former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has been hired by the school to investigate its entire athletics program, Diaz and his lawyers have concerns with the school’s transparency, calling on Northwestern to publicly release the results of the already completed investigation into Fitzgerald’s program. “Why can’t they release the investigation that’s already been conducted, and why can’t they do it before football season starts?” asked Stiner.
Diaz encouraged other student-athletes with similar experiences, at Northwestern and elsewhere, to come forward, pleading solidarity with them, and took issue with Northwestern President Michael Schill’s statement that “Hazing in any form is unacceptable and goes against our core values at Northwestern,” saying, “I refuse to allow lies to be turned into truths. A culture of abuse, bigotry, sexual exploitation, and racism exists at Northwestern University.”
Fitzgerald has also claimed to not have knowledge of the alleged hazing.
Deadspin reached out to Northwestern University for comment. The school provided the following statement:
“There is no place for hazing at Northwestern and we are currently reviewing the allegations involving (associate head coach Matt) MacPherson. We will review any specific allegation involving current coaches or players and will take the appropriate disciplinary action based on the facts.
“We are committed to do whatever is necessary to address hazing-related issues and ensure that our athletic program remains one that the entire community can be proud of and one that is fully aligned with and reflects our values. As President Schill shared recently, the University will redouble its efforts to safeguard the welfare of each and every student-athlete at Northwestern.”
At the time of publication, neither Duke University nor Adam Cushing had responded to our request for comment. We will update this story if they reply.
[Update:] Duke University told Deadspin they are aware of the allegations against Cushing, but do not wish to comment at this time.