Lloyd Yates with his lawyers at Monday’s press conference at The Westin River North. | Bob Skolnik

On Monday former Oak Park and River Forest High School star quarterback Lloyd Yates became the first former Northwestern University football player to put his name to a lawsuit against Northwestern alleging that he and many other Northwestern football players were victims of repeated acts of sexualized and degrading hazing by teammates on the Northwestern football team.

Yates’s attorneys filed a lawsuit against Evanston-based Northwestern Monday in Cook County Circuit Court charging the university with willful and wanton negligence for failing to protect Yates and others from a pattern of hazing that was commonplace in the Northwestern football program and known to at least some coaches. The lawsuit also charges Northwestern violated the Illinois Gender Violence Act. The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $50,000.

Yates graduated from OPRF in 2015 and received an athletic scholarship to play football at Northwestern.

“When I enrolled at Northwestern University in June of 2015 as a freshman quarterback, I never imagined that I would be standing here today involved in a legal action, but here I am,” said Yates at a press conference held at The Westin River North Hotel shortly after the lawsuit was filed. “This is not an easy place to be but I join other former and current Northwestern players as we finally hold Northwestern accountable.”

Yates was accompanied at the press conference by four lawyers, including noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump, and his parents who are both medical doctors and Northwestern graduates. Yates, now lives in Miami and his parents no longer live in Oak Park. His father, Bill Yates, also spoke at the press conference as did four lawyers representing Yates.

Yates lawsuit is at least the fourth filed by former Northwestern football players alleging sexualized hazing. But Yates is the only former player, as of now, who put his name in the complaint. The other lawsuits use the pseudonym, John Doe. But two other former Northwestern football players who were hazed, Simba Short and Miles Long along with two players identified only as John Doe, are named in Yates’s complaint.  Yates said that he filed the lawsuit for a couple of reasons.

“I want justice for all the victims of this horrific hazing, I want closure for myself and hundreds of other Northwestern football players who suffered in silence,” Yates said. “Too often many of us have blamed ourselves for things that were beyond our control. Lastly, I want protection for future players. Northwestern failed to protect us. I hope this lawsuit ensures that Northwestern will protect future generations of student athletes.”

Yates said it was not easy to go public with his experience at Northwestern but felt that it was something important to do.

“I hope by speaking out future athletes will be free from the physical, emotional and psychological trauma that I experienced as a collegiate athlete at Northwestern University,” Yates said.

Yates said he knew by coming forward publicly he might open himself up to criticism.

“It was definitely something to consider, right, all the implications that can come with it, all the criticism, but I think what it really comes down to is being a whistleblower and really just having a reflection on my experience there and all the trauma that ensued at the time and had a lasting effect,” Yates said. “It just really made me sick to the stomach and I really felt like I had no option but to speak my truth.”

Yates’s complaint outlines repeated instances of Yates and others being hazed beginning with the summer camp held at the University of Wisconsin Parkside campus in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August 2015, just a couple months after enrolling at Northwestern after graduating from OPRF.

The complaint describes a “Shrek Squad” of upperclassman football players who wore horror masks and went around shirtless or with shirts that had holes cut to display their nipples. These students would “run” players by forcibly holding down a non-consenting teammate, often a freshman, and rub their genitals against the teammate’s genitals, face, and buttocks while rocking back and forth.

“No young teenager should have to bear what we did as freshman students,” Yates said. “We were conditioned to believe that this behavior was normal which was sickening and unacceptable.”

The complaint outlines drills that were done naked such as naked rope swings, naked pull ups and naked center and quarterback exchanges in which Yates, as a quarterback had to participate.

“During the naked QB center exchange that Yates felt he was forced to do, he was bent over with his backside and genitals exposed to the entire team,” the complaint states. “Yates’ hands were then positioned under the center’s genitals while the center snapped the football into Yates’s hands.

“Lloyd suffered extreme embarrassment and humiliation and emotional suffering following this public display.”

Crump praised Yates’s courage in coming forward publicly and using his name in the lawsuit.

“He’s not hiding behind any anonymity, he’s saying here I am,” Crump said.

Crump said it was not easy to be first to attach a name to a lawsuit against Northwestern.

“With anything being the first is extremely difficult especially when you’re going against an extremely well lauded institution, celebrated coaches and players who are saying ‘hold on it’s going to have an effect on our program,’” Crump said. “You can only imagine what people are saying on social media about these young people who are coming forward doing the right thing.”

Yates’s legal team also alleges that Yates and former players were pressured to keep silent or support fired head football coach Pat Fitzgerald.

Yates said he didn’t blame the players who hazed him. Rather he blamed the culture within the Northwestern football program.

“We were all victims and I want to make that clear,” Yates said. “No matter what role, if you were being hazed or on the perpetrating side. It was just really a culture that you had to find a position within and for some guys that’s where their identity was, but they’re not at fault. They are just as much victims as us.”

Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates, no relation to Lloyd Yates, issued a statement via email in response to the lawsuit.

“Shortly after learning the results of the independent investigation into hazing on the football team, the university announced a series of steps including the monitoring of the football locker room, anti-hazing training and the establishment of an online reporting tool for complaints,” wrote Yates, who is the vice-president for Global Marketing and Communications at Northwestern. “These steps, while necessary and appropriate, are just the start, and we will be augmenting them in the coming weeks.”

Yates, the Northwestern spokesperson, said the university’s president has promised “appropriate accountability” for the athletic department and that a third-party firm will be hired to evaluate accountability measures. He also said the results of all reviews will be made public.

Lloyd Yates, now 26, graduated from Northwestern in three years with a major in communications and film and went on to earn an MBA with honors from Washington University in St. Louis. He is the CEO of his own company, Tylmen Tech which uses artificial intelligence to extract body measurements from photographs to make online ordering of clothes easier. Tylmen Tech is an offshoot of a company Yates founded at Northwestern, Tylmen Ties which got its start with Yates selling ties that his father once owned. Both his father and Yates are interested in fashion.

Yates, who was a three-star recruit as a high school senior and was rated by one scouting service as the 26th best senior in the state, chose Northwestern over offers from Northern Illinois, Illinois State, Akron and others. He was the third generation in his family to attend Northwestern. 

At OPRF Yates set a school record scoring 72 touchdowns in his three years as a varsity player. He was named All Conference all three seasons that he played varsity football.

Yates played football for three seasons at Northwestern but never saw much playing time. He redshirted his freshman year and appeared at quarterback briefly in a win against Purdue as a redshirt freshman.

After that year he was moved to wide receiver. As a redshirt freshman he was once named offensive practice player of the week.

At his press conference Yates was asked if there was hazing within the OPRF football program when he played for OPRF.

“There was no hazing to any degree, especially to this degree,” Yates said adding that he loved Oak Park.

His experience at Northwestern was very different and not at all what he expected.

“I think it was huge shock,” Yates said. “It’s like a brainwashing culture that was just so normalized.”

Yates said he hopes to help others by coming forward and to set an example for younger athletes.

“To all the young athletes out there, I urge you to stand up, stand up for yourself even when the odds are against you for I have come to understand that no one else will,” Yates said.

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