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ACC commissioner Jim Phillips says he never condoned misconduct toward athletes as Northwestern AD

ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips
Mitchell Northam
ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. on March 11, 2023.

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner Jim Phillips says he never “condoned or tolerated inappropriate conduct” against athletes as Northwestern's athletics director in the wake of that school's hazing scandal, which has led to at least three lawsuits and the firing of football coach Pat Fitzgerald.

Phillips has been named as a defendant for two of the lawsuits along with other university leaders in their oversight roles. The first complaint came Wednesday from a former football player identified as “John Doe 2," followed by another as “John Doe 3” on Thursday.

“This has been a difficult time for the Northwestern University community, a place that my entire family called home,” Phillips said in a statement Thursday. "Over my 30-year career in intercollegiate athletics, my highest priority has always been the health and safety of all student-athletes.

"Hazing is completely unacceptable anywhere, and my heart goes out to anyone who carries the burden of having been mistreated. Any allegation that I ever condoned or tolerated inappropriate conduct against student-athletes is absolutely false. I will vigorously defend myself against any suggestion to the contrary.”

The John Doe plaintiffs who have named Phillips as a defendant were members of the football team from 2018-22, which overlaps the final years of Phillips' tenure before replacing retiring John Swofford as ACC commissioner.

Each complaint alleges “longstanding issues involving hazing and bullying that takes on a sexual and/or racist tone” and accuses Fitzgerald of enabling “a culture of racism and/or other microaggressions” on the football team. Attorneys have said misconduct extended to other sports as well.

The first lawsuit was filed Tuesday by a former Northwestern football player, though that complaint didn't name Phillips as a defendant.

The ACC will hold its preseason football media days next week in Charlotte. Phillips is scheduled to hold his annual commissioner's forum Tuesday morning.

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