The Penn State Nittany Lions football program is under some new legal fire, as is head coach James Franklin. That’s from a lawsuit filed on behalf of Isaiah Humphries, a former Nittany Lions football player who transferred to Cal in 2019. Here’s more on what’s in that lawsuit from Mike Persak of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Former Penn State player Isaiah Humphries has alleged that coach James Franklin ignored violent, sexual hazing on the Nittany Lions’ football team, which included some players telling underclassmen, “I’m going to Sandusky you.”
…The complaint includes graphic details of perpetrators exposing their genitalia on and near the faces and bodies of victims. Among other things, perpetrators are alleged to have wrestled victims to the ground and made humping actions while on top of them, stolen victims clothes and placed their genitalia on victims while in the team showers.
Additionally, Humphries claims the perpetrators made references to former football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of child molestation. These alleged actions took place at the football facilities within the Lasch Building in University Park, a dormitory and other locations in Centre County.
In the suit, Humphries says coaches observed some of this hazing. He says both he and his father, ex-Penn State player Leonard Humphries, complained to his coaches, including Franklin, about the conduct, but the complaints were ignored. In fact, Humphries claims that actions were taken against him to punish the complaints.
The lawsuit specifically is filed against Penn State, Franklin, and defensive tackle Damion Barber. It also identifies linebackers Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos as leaders of the hazing efforts. And it says that after Humphries and his father complained, Humphries was put in drills “designed to ensure [Humphries’] failure,” ostracized, and then negatively reviewed by the coaching staff when he did eventually decide to transfer. The most remarkable reprisal claim in there sees Humphries state “Luketa told him that if he ever visited “his city” [Ottawa] in Canada, Luketa would have him gunned down upon his arrival.”
Penn State has responded to the lawsuit with a statement, which includes discussion of the university office of sexual misconduct prevention and response investigating complaints of indecent assaults in the football facilities last year and Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna deciding not to file any criminal charges in that case. Here’s their statement, via Greg Pickel of Penn Live:
“The University has established processes in place for responding to claims of potential misconduct. In accordance with our processes, the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response and the Office of Student Conduct carried out investigations of the plaintiff’s claims independent from Intercollegiate Athletics. In addition, Penn State police investigated related allegations and forwarded the results of that investigation to the Office of the Centre County District Attorney (DA). The DA reviewed the case and decided that no charges would be pursued.”
Penn State’s code of conduct explicitly prohibits hazing in all forms, but there have been serious cases of hazing there, albeit with some of those taking place outside athletics. In particular, in April 2019, four former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers at the school were sentenced to jail time for their role in the February 2017 death of 19-year-old sophomore Tim Piazza after his first night pledging the fraternity. That case led to Pennsylvania passing an anti-hazing law named after Piazza.
This lawsuit is only in the early stages, and it’s not clear what will come of it at this point. But claims of this sort of hazing are quite serious, and there have been several cases of hazing allegations in NCAA football in the past few years. And the claim that players used “I’m going to Sandusky you” language seem particularly bad given the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which led to three former Penn State administrators receiving jail time and to the university being fined $2.4 million for violating the federal Clery Act. Having your coach and your program named in a lawsuit like this certainly isn’t great.