Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

UVA Football Hazing Incident Leads to Title IX Lawsuit

It's a story we've heard too many times to count now. From the NFL down to the high school ranks, and from soccer players to the marching band, it seems like the injuries, and deaths, tied to hazing will never cease.

The most recent tale comes from a school you might not expect: the University of Virginia. Often touted as one of the best public universities in the country -- it ranks in U.S. News and World Reports top 10 for 2017 -- UVA is easily more well-known for its off-the-field academic accomplishments than for anything its football team has won. But it seems like the pervasiveness of sports team hazing can even infect a prestigious university. Here's Aidan Howard's story.

Cavalier Bullying

According to Courthouse News Service, Howard just enrolled in UVA this summer, and was a target for bullying from the very start. He was mocked as "slow" and "retarded" for his inability to learn the playbook, and his "soft-spoken and mild-mannered nature" led to taunts that he was "soft" and "not manly." And rather than easing tensions, an academic-placement test revealing that Howard had a learning disability only exacerbated the situation, as "teammates sometimes circulated photographs of him with captions about his struggle with remembering plays."

The bullying came to a head when teammates told him a team initiation ritual required him to fight another first-year teammate. As over 100 people watched, Howard suffered a concussion and a fractured orbital bone in the brawl. He left the school after that, and transferred to Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh with hopes to play for their team. But soon after the transfer Howard learned his injuries may be career-ending.

UVA Violations

Howard has filed a Title IX lawsuit against the school, also claiming civil-rights violations and negligence for not investigating the incident or working to prevent it. According to Howard's lawsuit, not only was a graduate assistant for the university's football program present during the altercation, he was even "yelling 'No phones,' and admonishing the student-athletes to put their cell phones away and to not record videos of the fight." Howard's suit also alleges violations of the Rehabilitation Act and Americans With Disabilities Act, perhaps in reference to his learning disability.

UVA allegedly has a ban on hazing; team rules state: "NO offensive or abusive behavior will be accepted; respect and tolerance for differences is expected ... NO hazing or initiations. No Rookie Night." But that wasn't enough to keep Howard safe, and his name is added to the ever increasing list of hazing victims.

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