Former football player files hazing lawsuit

Lawsuit names Sullivan, football officials, former teammates

nsaidanhowardcourtesyvirginiaathletics

Aidan Howard was going to be a wide receiver for the University football team. He is now a student at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Pa. 

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

Former University football player Aidan Howard filed a lawsuit against the University in federal court in Pennsylvania on Oct. 14, alleging he was hazed and harassed during his time on the football team.

Howard signed a letter of intent to join the team in February 2016 and started participating in the football program in July while taking summer classes at the University heading into his first year. He alleges upperclassmen on the team made a target of bullying and harassment “because of his soft-spoken and mild-mannered nature,” as well as a learning disability and a perception of him being “not manly.”

The complaint alleges Howard was forced to fight fellow first-year player Hassis Dubois as part of an “initiation” on Aug. 12, which resulted in “severe eye injuries” and a concussion.

Howard claims over 100 people watched the fight — including players Doni Dowling and David Eldridge, as well as graduate assistant to the football program Famika Anae — “but none of these individuals, including Defendant Anae, did anything to stop the fight.”

The complaint notes Howard left the University and was granted a release from his letter of intent, which the University noted as being due to “conduct of others within the University.”

Following the incident, Howard transferred to Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he intended to play football.

After learning he had broken an orbital bone during the alleged fight, however, he received surgery in late September and found out he would be unable to continue playing football for this academic year.

“Due to the severity of his injuries sustained as a result of the fight orchestrated and arranged by Defendants Dowling and Eldridge and allowed to proceed by Defendant Anae, Aidan cannot compete with RMU’s Football program during the 2016-2017 academic year, and it is unclear if he will ever be able to play football again,” the complaint reads.

The complaint claims the University failed to take action to punish anyone involved with the fight or involved in the football program.

Howard alleges the University, President Teresa Sullivan, Athletics Director Craig Littlepage, Wide Receivers coach Marques Hagan and Anae did not enforce existing rules prohibiting hazing and abusive behavior.

Other incidents of alleged harassment cited in the lawsuit included Dowling and Eldridge calling Howard “retarded” and “slow” in the presence of coaches, as force Howard to eat meals on his own “because he was not as tough and manly as others with the football program.”

“Specifically as it relates to Mr. Howard’s legal filing, U.Va. is conducting a thorough investigation that involves several steps in the fact-finding process,” University deputy spokesperson Matt Charles said in an Oct. 21 statement.

Charles said when the University received a report of the hazing allegations from the athletics department on Aug. 16, the University alerted the Charlottesville and Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorneys.

The University Police Department, the Office of the Dean of Students and the University’s Title IX office started investigations into the matter after it was reported, Charles said.

“Mr. Howard and his counsel participated in interviews with the University Police Department in August and also have been interviewed by members of the University’s Dean of Students and Title IX offices,” Charles said. “Other staff and students have been interviewed in connection with this matter, as well.”

The University’s investigation remains ongoing.

Littlepage declined to comment on the ongoing legal matter.

Head football coach Bronco Mendenhall is not named as a party to the suit.

Howard is calling for a trial by jury.

The Cavalier Daily also reached out to Sullivan, Hagan, Anae, Dowling, Eldridge and Dubois Wednesday evening and will update this article with any additional responses.

This is not the first hazing case involving University athletes. In March, former members of the University swim team reached a undisclosed settlement with former swimmer and University student Anthony Marcantonio, who claimed to have been a victim of alleged hazing in 2014.

Mark Felice contributed reporting to this article.

This article has been updated with a statement of clarification released by the University on Oct. 21.

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