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ESPN report: James Franklin told a Penn State player not to report a fight involving Micah Parsons

Former Nittany Lion Isaiah Humphries filed suit last January charging harassment by older players. A report said he pulled a knife on Parsons during a 2018 fight so Parsons would stop choking him.

Penn State head coach James Franklin (middle), shown leading his team onto the field for a 2019 game.
Penn State head coach James Franklin (middle), shown leading his team onto the field for a 2019 game.Read moreBarry Reeger / AP

A former Penn State football player who filed a lawsuit against head coach James Franklin earlier this year said Franklin urged him not to talk to police after a fight with star linebacker Micah Parsons during which the player who filed the suit pulled a knife, ESPN reported Friday.

The story shed new light on a lawsuit filed Jan. 14 by Isaiah Humphries in which the former player claimed he was the victim of hazing and harassment, some of it sexually suggestive, by Parsons and other players in 2018. He said Franklin did nothing to stop the hazing.

Franklin and defensive tackle Damion Barber were named as defendants in the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg. Humphries accused Barber of engaging in harmful physical contact against him, placing him in fear of imminent bodily harm.

» READ MORE: Former Penn State football player says in suit that head coach James Franklin ignored hazing

Humphries also alleged that three players — Parsons, defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, and linebacker Jesse Luketa — took an active role in the hazing and harassment of him and other underclassmen. Of the players named, Luketa, a co-captain, is the only current member of the team.

Humphries, a defensive back from Sachse, Texas, and the son of former Penn State player Leonard Humphries, transferred to California after the 2018 season.

ESPN said news of the March 2018 fight had been included in a 2019 university report it obtained on a Title IX inquiry into sexual assault allegations inside the locker room that included interviews with “dozens of football players, coaches and staff.”

According to the report, the fight started after Parsons poured water on a sleeping Humphries inside the university’s academic center and that some of the water got on his laptop and phone. Humphries retaliated by dumping Gatorade on Parsons. Humphries said Parsons punched him and was choking him when he pulled a pocket knife on Parsons to get him to stop.

The investigator’s report said Humphries met with Franklin in the coach’s car after the fight. The investigator wrote: “Mr. Humphries added that Coach Franklin came and said, ‘Don’t talk to the police because Micah is his start [sic] player and makes money, so if he gets in trouble, he’s gone,’ meaning Mr. Humphries would be gone.”

Leonard Humphries told ESPN that Franklin expressed his anger over a knife being brandished during the fight because it meant the police would get involved. An amended complaint filed by Isaiah Humphries later quoted Franklin as saying, “You should have just gotten your ass beat and not pulled a knife.”

Franklin has not commented on the lawsuit. A university statement released Friday said “we will continue to defend him vigorously.

“Coach Franklin never instructed Mr. Humphries to avoid contacting authorities,” the statement said. “The court has twice rejected Mr. Humphries’ complaints, and despite his continued revisions, previously dismissed the claims against Coach Franklin in their entirety. We believe the claims relating to Coach Franklin have no merit.”

The university said it was “disappointed that ESPN has chosen to rehash a series of allegations that have remained unsubstantiated despite being investigated thoroughly through the University’s established processes for responding to claims of misconduct and by the Penn State police,” according to the statement.

In his suit, Humphries charged that he and other underclassmen were told, “I’m going to Sandusky you,” a reference to former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who is in prison for multiple convictions on child sexual abuse charges. He said his alleged tormentors would wrestle them to the ground and “simulate a humping action,” or shove their genitals in the victim’s face.

ESPN said one player interviewed in the report talked of a naked Barber overpowering a smaller teammate and simulating sex acts, doing it almost daily. He said he never saw Barber do that to Humphries.

The report also interviewed the player who had been allegedly overpowered by Barber, and he said that they were “always fully clothed” when wrestling and that no one took it seriously.

Barber transferred after the 2019 season to Austin Peay, and Gross-Matos plays for the Carolina Panthers. Both players denied Humphries’ allegations in the report, ESPN said.

Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna had said a 2019 investigation into hazing allegations did not result in the filing of criminal charges, but added that the investigation remains open, telling ESPN, “A matter like this doesn’t get closed.”