University of Dayton attorneys want a judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a former football player alleging hazing that his lawyer said led to a traumatic brain injury.
In Montgomery County Common Pleas Court filings, UD’s lawyers have said that even if true, Max Engelhart’s allegations — being forced to drink to excess during a “Mad Dogs” party that football staffers knew about — are not illegal. They argue Ohio’s statute only addresses activities that are an “initiation into” a group.
“What is described is not hazing as a matter of law, no matter how many times plaintiff uses the word,” UD attorneys wrote, calling the December 2014 alleged party after Engelhart’s freshman season a “social gathering” and denying his allegations.
Engelhart’s allegations of freshmen drinking excessively and having their heads shaved also draws attention to the differences between the law and the university’s hazing policy, which was established Feb. 27, 2014.
UD’s hazing policy
UD’s policy addresses “any planned/executed action or activity, by or against an active member, associate member, pledge or potential member or new member of an organization or group.”
UD’s policy says any activity that causes “physical or mental harm, distress, anxiety, or which may demean, degrade, embarrass or disgrace any person, regardless of location, consent or intention is prohibited.”
The policy cites examples of hazing such as forced consumption of food, alcohol or drugs and other physical activity.
“Students may not imply that a person would be shunned, removed, or not initiated for failing to participate in any form of hazing,” the policy also states. “Any action or situation that intentionally or unintentionally endangers a student, who is attempting admission into or affiliating with any student organization, is prohibited.”
Engelhart claimed he was forced to chug high-alcohol drinks as part of a “Mad Dogs” or “Mad Caps” initiation to the UD football team. Defendants include UD football coach Rick Chamberlin, strength coach Jared Phillips and others.
Engelhart, then a 6-foot-1, 270-pound offensive lineman, woke up Dec. 8, 2014, covered in his own vomit, feces and urine and with a headache later diagnosed by UD’s team physician as a concussion. Engelhart claims he quit football, left the university and has been prescribed a medicine typically given to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
EARLY REPORT: UD sued for alleged 2014 football hazing incident
“We are concerned with UD’s position on hazing,” Scott Jones, one of Engelhart’s attorneys, said in a statement. “UD’s own Public Safety Records state that, at MAD DOGS 2014, upperclassmen football players forced freshmen players to drink large quantities of alcohol, shaved freshmen players’ heads, and spray painted pictures of genitalia on the freshmen players.
“Some of the freshmen players who were forced to participate specifically described the activities as ‘hazing’ to UD Public Safety. Yet, in papers filed with the court, UD has chosen to describe the event as a ‘social gathering.’ More troubling, however, is UD’s position that once a student athlete accepts an offer to be on a university team, Ohio’s Anti-Hazing statute offers that student athlete no protection.”
In his amended complaint, Engelhart claimed hazing violations, negligence, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy to cover up allegations of hazing.
State law vs. school policy
Visiting Judge Peter Handwork, formerly of the Sixth District Court of Appeals, set a hearing on the defense’s motion to dismiss for July 21. Handwork was assigned to the case after both Judge Dennis Langer and Judge Steven Dankof asked to be disqualified due to possible conflicts of interest.
UD officials said that the school’s student development professionals adjusted the guidelines in early 2014 “so the policy is clear and unambiguous to our students; it also reflects sound higher education practices regarding hazing prevention, education and response.”
READ THE GUIDLINES: UD’s hazing policy
When asked about the differences between Ohio’s anti-hazing law — a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine — and UD’s bylaws, university officials said best practices at higher education institutions often go beyond what the law requires.
“The University of Dayton’s policies and student code of conduct are detailed and specific because our efforts are geared toward prevention,” university officials said in a statement. “It’s important to identify and quickly address behavior that might start small, but if unchecked could grow into something far more serious.”
UD officials emailed this news organization portions of hazing policies from Miami University, Ohio State University, Wright State University and Xavier University.
University hazing policy language
Miami University’s policy prohibits coercing activity not just as an initiation into, but also “as a condition of participation in” an organization.
Ohio State’s policy prohibits “doing, requiring or encouraging any act, whether or not the act is voluntarily agreed upon, in conjunction with initiation or continued membership or participation in any group, that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm or humiliation.”
AREA HAZING POLICY EXAMPLES:
Similarly, Xavier’s policy prohibits intentional, reckless or coercive acts “for initiation into, admission to, affiliation with, or continued membership in any group or organization, and which causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm, harassment, discomfort, embarrassment, or ridicule to any person.”
Wright State’s policy states, “Group loyalty and unity is built on trust and mutual respect. Hazing is an abuse of power and relationships, and puts individuals at risk.”
University of Toledo case cited
UD attorneys cite a rejected Court of Claims case about which UD attorneys wrote that University of Toledo freshman football Kyle Cameron severely injured his head while trying to dunk a football over the goal post during the offensive line’s “Freshman Olympics” during summer practices before the season.
UD lawyers wrote that the court rejected the Toledo player’s hazing claim on grounds that the plaintiff “was already a member of the team.”
Cameron’s attorney, Guy Barone, told this news organization that the Court of Claims case was argued in front of the Tenth District Court of Appeals and a decision is possible in the next couple months.
Baron said attorneys from the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine zeroed in on the fact Cameron had signed his letter of intent to play football at the school.
“If that was so, you could never have hazing in the military, you couldn’t have it in any athletics programs and so forth,” Barone said. “I think that’s ridiculous. If it’s not hazing, then it’s my position is that it’s negligence.”
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