Ex-Northwestern linebacker lifts lid on alleged locker room abuse in explosive lawsuit

Nathan Fox knew almost instantly that what he said happened inside the locker rooms at Northwestern University wasn’t normal. He was, after all, a product of the Texas high school football world – known to many as the ‘Friday Night Lights’ culture.

"There’s a common phrase where they say football in Texas is a religion – and that’s not far from the truth," Fox said. "I grew up, since eight years out, sports and football and loving it. Once you get to that high school level, where we’re from, football is kind of like the thing high schools are proud of. It’s what brought people together on Friday nights."

A star middle linebacker, Fox made varsity his freshman year, first team All-State, All-American, district MVP -- and he had his first college offer by his sophomore year. In fact, Fox was sought after by schools around the country – everyone from Hawaii to Harvard.

"Right off the bat," Fox said, "sophomore year, I had several from all different conferences."

Fox was approached by schools from the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, Ivy Leagues – but at the end of the day, he chose Northwestern.

"Northwestern fit kind of that happy medium between Big Ten football, still get to be on TV and under the big lights, but they offer a very good education and a way of life," Fox said.

Northwestern first started recruiting Fox during his junior year of high school, ultimately leading to head coach Patrick Fitzgerald and linebackers coach Randy Bates visiting his Texas home.

"I went to Northwestern because I really respected Coach Fitz. I say that’s one of the main reasons I chose it, I was convinced that not only was it a great school and a great opportunity, Coach Fitz was the type of guy I’d want to play football for," Fox said.

"He comes in, they promise you all this stuff – for it to be so opposite, so complete opposite from what they say they stand for, who they are, it really does leave quite a sour taste. For me, it feels very disrespectful. It feels like we got taken advantage of."

Fox moved from Texas to the Northwestern campus in June 2015 – but upon stepping foot into the locker rooms with his new teammates, he felt that something wasn’t right.

"Very, very, very early on, within the first week," Fox said, "I’ve played sports my whole life, I’ve been in locker rooms, I’ve been around rambunctious boys. There were always shenanigans. But walking into the Northwestern locker room and that culture, I’ve never seen before."

Fox’s first week on campus featured a teammate exposing himself to him in the locker room, coupled with a popular threat – three words: ‘wait for Kenosha.’

"It’s what they intend with it, just wait for Kenosha," Fox said. "That’s what you hear that whole summer. What the hell is Kenosha and what are you guys talking about?"

Kenosha, Wisconsin was where Northwestern held their pre-season football training camp – where Fox says the hazing and harassment heated up.

"That first summer was sort of psychological torment and torture, but once you get to Kenosha, all hell breaks loose," Fox said. "That’s what they’ve been waiting for."

The complaint for the lawsuit that Fox – and other former Northwestern football players – have filed against the school and former head coach Fitzgerald details both mental and physical abuse at the hands of the upperclassmen that started before training camp in Kenosha and continued on into the regular season.

"We would have a three-hour sexual assault seminar from Northwestern and go straight to the locker rooms and be doing the things they’re preaching about not doing," Fox said.

"You kind of get broken, just accept that it is what it is. That’s okay for a little bit, years down the road, this doesn’t go away. Your true outcries were ignored."

Fox spoke to six different members of the Northwestern staff – including coaches and an on-staff therapist. According to the complaint, the therapist told Fox that his hazing and abuse accusations were not real – and diagnosed him with depressive bipolar disorder.

"You do get brainwashed that maybe I am seeing these things wrong," Fox said. "This is not harmful even though you’re experiencing it."

Nathan Fox’s attorney, Margaret Battersby Black of Levin & Perconti, said her client was demoralized by the Northwestern football program.

"What happens to these incoming freshman is so demoralizing that it just kind of breaks their spirit, and I think his record on the team, when he was allowed to play and was in the good graces of the coaching staff, speaks for itself. But after each success on the field, there were these demoralizing and dehumanizing episodes off the field and it’s almost like they’re setting them up for failure," Battersby Black said.

Fox stopped playing football for Northwestern in 2018 and went on to graduate from the school in 2019 – but with two years of football eligibility left, he transferred to the University of Houston, which gave him a glimpse of a different locker room environment.

"The first day there, I could instantly tell completely different culture and atmosphere," Fox said about the University of Houston locker room.

"It made me upset because you try to block out Northwestern but then you go to UH and see how different it is and how a real non-ritualistic culture...it felt like a normal locker room."

Fox is one of many former players who’ve filed lawsuits – 27 in total. These days, Fox says he’s doing alright.

"It’s been a tough several years – the hardest thing is trying to block everything out. Turn the other cheek and live each day not trying to think about what happened. But that only works for so long."