Dawged by lawsuits

UW seeks a good off-field defense, too.

New for the Husky football fan: the spring game, followed by the summer legalities. In June, the University of Washington should learn its fate for what now number 30 separate incidents of NCAA rule violations. At the same time, the school will begin defending against a lawsuit in King County Superior Court over serious allegations of "unsafe and negligent" conditioning of its athletes.

In a year with seemingly more UW sports action off-field than on, the lawsuit by former Husky linebacker Chad Wright challenges traditional ways college football players are molded. Wright claims the UW treated him "like a piece of meat" in 1994, forcing him to engage in "unreasonably dangerous weight-training exercises" that led to a back injury and the loss of his scholarship. Then-coach Jim Lambright and staff ridiculed and humiliated him, "mocked his masculinity and attacked his self-esteem," Wright says in the suit filed in 1997, forcing him to continue grueling training sessions such as "Squat till you drop" that ultimately washed him out of the program.

Wright says an expert will testify to the "unsafe and negligent strength and conditioning practices of the UW football program," but the UW says all his claims are without merit and is aggressively challenging him in court.

That suit is similar to another filed two weeks ago by former Husky quarterback Shane Fortney over a 1996 knee injury. Fortney says he lost out on a professional football career due to Lambright's "reckless, malicious" treatment. Fortney, though, admits he filed the suit mainly because he was ticked off at Lambright for threatening a lawsuit of his own against Fortney's beloved alma mater.

But, if only to further boggle Husky fans, Lambright last week announced he was going to go quietly. Angry at being abruptly dumped by athletic director Barbara Hedges last December, Lambright had threatened to sue over lack of a severance bonus. Now, after 35 years mostly as a UW player and coach, Lambright will just mosey on to a new career as a personal motivator at the Pacific Institute. "It's another challenge in team building," he says without intended irony.

Meanwhile, the Dawgs are hoping the Pac-10 and NCAA will be gentle in handing out penalties to Lambo's successor, $7 million coach Rick Neuheisel, for his ever-mounting rookie serial blunders. No one seemed to notice, but buried in the school's March 3 mea culpa and report to the Pac-10 Conference detailing its recruiting violations were—not too surprisingly—more recruiting violations.

Originally, the university admitted Neuheisel and five assistants recruited prospective players on a "quiet day," when such contacts are not allowed, and said Neuheisel had improperly contacted some of his former players at Colorado University (see "The Coach Fumbles," SW, 2/18). Altogether, the UW had outlined 18 separate instances of NCAA violations.

But in the school's official report to the conference, 12 more were added: Assistant coach Bob Hauck, like Neuheisel, also made "about a dozen . . . calls to his [former] players at Colorado," prohibited by NCAA rules. UW faculty rep Robert Aronson says Hauck's calls, if found to be violations, are of "a very minor nature."

Essentially, that's the UW's mitigating view of all the violations, 30 in just a three-week span—Neuheisel's break-in period. If nothing else, the new coach may have set a record of sorts. Now if his team can only. . . .

 
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