KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Six unidentified women have filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Tennessee saying the university has created a student culture that enables sexual assault by athletes, particularly football players.
“It’s awful. Athletes are just people like everybody else. We felt like the athletes just got off very easy,” said one of the alleged victims in an interview with WATE 6 On Your Side.
The lawsuit filed by six plaintiffs who are only identified as “Jane Doe” accuses five former athletes of sexual assault: former basketball player Yemi Makanjuola, former football players A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams and Riyahd Jones, and a current football player who was not identified.
That alleged assault, according to the suit, happened after a football team party at Vol Hall in September 2014 where she was served drinks by former UT player Treyvon Paulk, who was still taking part in team events despite an allegation of battery by Paulk’s girlfriend weeks before.
Johnson and Williams were accused of raping a 19-year-old woman at a large gathering at The Woodlands Apartment Complex in South Knoxville in November 2014.
The lawsuit alleges the university enables a environment of bad behavior and its disciplinary system favors the players, citing more than a dozen other incidents involving football players, some previously unreported.
The plaintiffs accuse UT of being deliberately indifferent to sexual assaults, interfering with the disciplinary process in favor of male athletes charged with rape and “directly supporting, maintaining and controlling environments for athletes in the major sports of football and basketball that encouraged underage drinking, drug use and rape.”
“I just hope that people take it seriously and that stuff will change in the future as far as how people are educated and how sexual assault is handled on campus,” said the alleged victim.
The suit specifically names Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, Athletic Director Dave Hart and Head Football Coach Butch Jones as knowing about sexual assaults and rapes by football players, yet acting with indifference and failing to take corrective actions.