Oct 30, 2023 - Sports

Former quarterback sues University of San Diego for hazing allegations

University of San Diego

University of San Diego. Photo: Kate Murphy/Axios

Former freshman quarterback AJ Perez is suing the University of San Diego and 50 unnamed people, alleging "severe and pervasive acts of hazing" by upperclassmen football players.

What's happening: The civil lawsuit, filed last week, details two incidents during August preseason training when rookie and transfer players were asked to "get naked and press their genitals up against the window so the upperclassmen inside could see," and then were locked in a room and shown "grotesque pornography."

  • The lawsuit also describes a "rookie show" in the locker room with alcohol and drugs present. If their routine wasn't up to par, players would face physical punishment.
  • If their routine wasn't up to par, players would face physical punishment.
  • The suit alleges coaching staff knew about "the hazing, and the sexualized nature of the team activities" and took no action to prevent or stop it despite the fact that several coaches had previously been USD players who participated in similar activities.
  • Newly hired head coach Brandon Moore said in a statement last week that he had "no prior knowledge at any level about these activities before they were reported" to him by Perez.

Why it matters: High-profile college sports scandals in recent years have illuminated the ways entrenched power structures and hazing practices can contribute to a culture of abuse, Axios' Ivana Saric reports.

  • College sports is a billion-dollar industry in the U.S., but athletes often feel discouraged from going public with abuse allegations.
  • There's often a culture of silence in college athletics, particularly for students on scholarship who feel their college careers may be on the line if they report allegations of abuse, one expert told Axios.

In this case, Perez, who transferred to USD from Utah Tech University, said he felt if he didn't participate, it could "jeopardize his career as his teammates would not block or catch for him," according to the lawsuit.

Details: During his "Polynesian dance" at the "rookie show," Perez "felt players pulling hard at his underwear trying to rip them off." When he tried to cover his genitals with a towel, it was "ripped off by other individuals," the lawsuit alleges.

  • After his dance, Perez immediately got dressed and left the locker room "feeling violated, and shamed," per the lawsuit.
  • Later that night, he drove home to Huntington Beach and did not return to campus.
  • Perez left the team and is no longer enrolled in school, the Union-Tribune first reported.

What they're saying: "It's been really hard for me," Perez told the U-T. "I've never felt that violated in my life. I've gone through different stages of emotions … mad, upset, sad. Now it's at the point where it's the frustration of everything being taken away."

Flashback: USD launched an investigation in August when Moore reported the alleged preseason hazing, and referred the matter to the San Diego Police Department, per the university.

  • Football program activities were temporarily halted and half of USD's football team faced disciplinary action, including indefinite game suspensions.
  • Some Toreros players did not appear in USD's first few games, but most have since returned to the field, the U-T reported.

State of play: "As of today, the only individual who has sustained severe punishment as a result of these acts is the plaintiff, AJ Perez," and "no coach has been disciplined" to the best of Perez's knowledge, the lawsuit states.

  • Perez has not been able to return to campus or the team and fears for his safety due to retribution from other players, according to the lawsuit.
  • Perez and his lawyer declined an interview with Axios.

The other side: USD did not answer some specific questions regarding the allegations, but in an emailed statement acknowledged the lawsuit and highlighted Moore's quick response that prompted the investigation, which remains underway.

  • USD's president James Harris and the university have issued several statements addressing the allegations, saying it "takes reports of violations of the student code of conduct with the utmost seriousness and condemns acts of hazing and bullying of any kind."
  • In his statement, Moore said: "This was not anything I'd heard before and certainly doesn't represent my vision for USD Football. The events reported to me were counter to the directive I issued to our players and coaches about hazing not being tolerated in any shape or form in my first team meeting."

Of note: Perez and his lawyer told the U-T they talked to school and team officials about Perez returning to campus, but were told the university couldn't guarantee his protection, and he was not allowed to complete the semester remotely via online classes.

What's next: The lawsuit was filed in San Diego County Superior Court and the complaint includes four causes for damages, including negligence, violation of the Bane Act, hazing and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

  • He is seeking relief for general damages in excess of $50,000 plus other expenses, including loss of earning capacity, according to the complaint.
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