A former Penn State football player filed suit Tuesday in federal court claiming that he was the victim of hazing and harassment, some of it sexually suggestive, by his teammates and that head coach James Franklin and members of his staff witnessed it but did nothing to stop it.
Isaiah Humphries, a cornerback from Sachese, Texas, who spent the 2018 season in the Nittany Lions’ football program, named Franklin and defensive tackle Damion Barber as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg. He is seeking unspecified financial damages. The story was first reported by PennLive.
Humphries also accuses a pair of All-Big Ten players from the 2019 season, linebacker Micah Parsons and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, plus linebacker Jesse Luketa, all of whom “collectively orchestrated, participated in, directed and/or facilitated to harass and haze” him and other underclassmen on the team, the suit said.
The suit said Franklin “failed to report incidents of prohibited conduct to the appropriate authorities,” and retaliated against Humphries for constantly complaining to him about the hazing.
Franklin and the players mentioned in the suit could not be reached for comment.
Former Penn State players Ryan Bates and Garrett Taylor commented on the issue via Twitter.
Bates, who is a graduate of Archbishop Wood and just completed his rookie season with the Buffalo Bills, tweeted: "“This kid absolutely sucks. I was there when he was and nothing but trouble came from this kid. From the jump he made a name for himself for being a trouble maker. I can assure you that everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie. THIS DUDE STINKS”
Taylor, a safety, just completed his Penn State career and scored a touchdown in the Cotton Bowl. He posted: “I don’t speak out often, but not going to sit here quietly while @PennStateFball is falsely being dragged through the mud by someone who quit on the program.”
In a statement, Penn State University said in regard to the lawsuit that its police department “investigated related allegations and forwarded the results of that investigation to the office of the Centre County District Attorney. The D.A. reviewed the case and decided that no charges would be pursued.”
Centre County DA Bernie Cantorna could not be reached for comment.
The statement also said the university’s Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response and the Office of Student Conduct carried out an investigation of Humphries’ claims independent from the athletic department. University spokesperson Lisa Powers said, “No claims of hazing were substantiated against anyone.”
The suit referenced that investigation and said that charges were filed against Barber, who was sanctioned for committing “prohibited behavior in violation of the Student Code of Conduct.”
Barber was suspended for the first game of the 2019 season for what Franklin called “a violation of team rules,” but it isn’t known if the punishment was related to the sanction. He is a redshirt sophomore, and Parsons and Luketa are sophomores. Gross-Matos, a junior, passed up his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.
The suit alleges that Barber and the other players conducted a campaign of harassment in which the perpetrators invoked the name of disgraced former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who is in prison for multiple convictions on child sexual-abuse charges.
Humphries said he and other underclassmen were told that “I am going to Sandusky you” or that they were going to be made “their bitch because this is a prison,” according to the suit. The alleged tormentors would wrestle them to the ground and “simulate a humping action,” or shove their genitals in the victim’s face.
“They were running the locker room like a prison,” said Steven F. Marino, the Philadelphia-based attorney for Humphries. “That coach and that university had a duty to protect my kid against those players.”
Marino said he knew of at least three other underclassmen who faced alleged locker-room hazing and that they remained at Penn State. He did not identify any of them.
The suit said the locations for the hazing included the Lasch Football Building, a campus dormitory, or “other places” in Centre County.
The suit also said Luketa repeatedly threatened Humphries and warned him that if he ever visited Luketa’s hometown in Canada, “he would be gunned down.”
The suit claimed that Franklin and members of his staff observed the harassment and the hazing, and were told by Humphries and his father, former Penn State football player Leonard Humphries, of the prohibited conduct but that “no substantive action was taken.”
Humphries said as a result of his complaints, he was “overly and unfairly scrutinized” and denied opportunities to get into football games. He said the coaches pressured him to leave the program, then gave “negative reviews” to schools that were interested in him.
Marino said Humphries also was ostracized by some of his teammates.
“He would want to eat a sandwich while he studied and they’d say, ‘You can’t eat here,’ ” he said.
Regarding allegations against Franklin, Powers said, “Based on extensive interviews, we did not learn of any information that would substantiate the claims.”
Humphries transferred to the University of California, where he sat out the 2019 season under NCAA transfer rules.
As a result of the continued hazing, the suit said, Humphries suffered physical pain, trauma, emotional distress, sleeplessness, anxiety and depression, plus humiliation and embarrassment.
The university “acted negligently, carelessly, intentionally, knowingly, recklessly and breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff,” the suit said.
“He just wants to be vindicated,” Marino said. “He didn’t leave Penn State because he was a troubled athlete. He left Penn State because he was a victim of bullying and hazing.”
Staff writer Oona Goodin-Smith contributed to this article.