A former University of Virginia football player was bullied and harassed by teammates because of his learning disability and seriously injured after being forced to fight another athlete in order to prove his “manliness,” according to a federal lawsuit filed against the school this month.
Aidan Howard said in the complaint filed in a Pennsylvania federal court that his teammates called him “slow” and “retarded” in front of coaches when he couldn’t quickly comprehend plays. Howard also suffered a broken eye socket when he was forced to fight another first-year player in August as part of his “initiation” onto the team, according to the complaint.
A university spokesman said the school is investigating, but couldn’t comment further on the lawsuit.
“The university is aware of Mr. Howard’s allegations and has made all of the required external notifications in accordance with state law,” Anthony de Bruyn said in an email. “The university has been actively investigating these reports consistent with its obligations under the law and University policy,” he said.
The complaint says the hazing was done primarily by two wide receivers: Doni Dowling and David Eldridge. In addition to making fun of Howard for his learning disability, it says the two would make him eat his lunch and dinner alone “because he was not as tough and manly as others within the football program.”
De Bruyn did not immediately respond to an email seeking information about whether the players have obtained attorneys.
The lawsuit states Dowling and Eldridge orchestrated a locker room fight between Howard and another player after a teach practice that was witnessed by more than 100 people, including Famika Anae, a graduate assistant for the team. The lawsuit also says Dowling and Eldridge forced Howard and the other student to “‘enter the ring’ to flashing lights, loud music and announcements to simulate a prize fight.”
The lawsuit names Teresa Sullivan, president of the university; Craig Littlepage, director of athletics and Marques Hagans, wide receivers coach. It states that Hagans would participate in the bullying and that the university knew why Howard chose to leave the school, but did nothing about it.
Howard transferred to Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania shortly after the incident and its “unclear if he will ever be able to play football again,” the complaint states. Howard is asking for unspecified monetary damages.
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