Blake Novacek, the son of Dallas Cowboys great Jay Novacek and a former student at the University of Oklahoma, has filed a lawsuit against a fraternity there claiming he suffered a brain injury after being hit with a baseball bat during a hazing incident.
Novacek was an 18-year-old freshman pledging the Gamma Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi when the alleged hazing occurred after Oklahoma lost a football game.
In the lawsuit, filed Sept. 29 in Tulsa County, Novacek claims he was among the group of pledges called to the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in the early morning hours of Oct. 11, 2015 as part of initiation into the fraternity. It claims nearly 100 active and alumni members were waiting at the house.
The suit states Novacek was blindfolded and forced into a fraternity member’s room before being asked a series of “pledge facts.” When Novacek was unable to correctly state some of the facts, a drunk fraternity brother hit him in the stomach with a baseball bat, the suit reads.
Novacek fell backward and hit his head on a hard object, the lawsuit reads. He woke up on a couch in the fraternity house the next morning.
“The reason they were being hazed on that particular evening? OU had lost to the University of Texas in the previous game. They decided to haze the boys because OU lost,” Christopher Cooke, one of Novacek’s attorneys, told the Star-Telegram. Texas had beaten OU, 24-17, on Oct. 10 in Dallas.
The lawsuit alleges that, after the alleged incident, other members of the fraternity blackmailed Novacek into keeping quiet about the hazing.
One member “told [Novacek] to keep his mouth shut about the hazing incident or else the fraternity would ruin [his] and his family’s reputation, damage his property, and have him kicked out of school,” the suit reads.
Months later, Novacek claims his car was vandalized after he met with a member of his pledge class about the alleged hazing incident.
Novacek "laid low" and didn't report any hazing in the wake of the threats, his attorney told the Star-Telegram.
Cooke told the paper that Novacek's brain injury created problems with his memory, and that his grade point average fell from a 4.0 to a .70 by the end of the semester.
Novacek, a native of Joshua, later dropped out of school.
The lawsuit, which seeks more than $150,000 in total damages, accuses the Gamma Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi -- “well known in the community and among the OU administration as having a reputation of hazing pledges” -- of negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.
A spokesman for the national Beta Theta Pi organization sent the following statement to WFAA in response to the lawsuit:
"Active litigation prohibits specific commentary on the matter, but Beta Theta Pi’s position on hazing is unequivocal and unwavering: it is not condoned and it will not be tolerated. As such, and given that Beta has long been one of OU’s hallmark student and alumni organizations, the General Fraternity is working closely with local alumni and undergraduate leaders in Norman to determine the basis for allegations they deem to be unfounded and without merit. We remain convinced that Beta’s record of leadership and character will shed important light on these claims, and are committed to that truth, whatever it may be."
"The university investigates every report of a violation of the Student Rights and Responsibilities Code," OU Senior Associate Vice President for Public Affairs Rowdy Gilbert told WFAA. "It would not be appropriate to comment on matters involved in pending litigation."
Shane Musselman, who is named in the lawsuit, told the Star-Telegram the suit came as a surprise. Gavin Martindale, also named in the suit, referred the paper's questions to his lawyer.
Beta Theta Pi is the same fraternity that was banned from Penn State University earlier this year after one of its pledges died as a result of a hazing incident. Tim Piazza, 19, died two days after falling down a flight of stairs.
Fraternity members waited 12 hours to call 911 after Piazza was badly injured. Fourteen fraternity members have been charged for their role in Piazza’s death.
Zach Allen, president of Beta Theta Pi Corporation of Oklahoma, released the following statement:
"On Monday, we became aware of a lawsuit filed by Blake Novacek against the Beta housing corporation, our chapter, the Beta General Fraternity and certain of our members. This was the first any of us had heard of any of the plaintiff’s alleged grievances, which supposedly arose two years ago."
"We take any allegations of this character very seriously. However, since learning of this lawsuit, we have performed an initial investigation of Blake’s allegations and have yet to uncover any evidence whatsoever which corroborates the substance of his claims. To the contrary, we have numerous witness accounts and other evidence which contradict Blake’s story and which question his credibility. Based on our investigations to date, we firmly believe Blake’s allegations are false and that his lawsuit is entirely without merit."
"We note in particular that Blake’s petition alleges the subject events occurred in the early morning of Sunday, October 11, 2015. In fact, no pledge or other fraternity activities occurred on that date. This date occurred during the weekend for the OU-Texas football game in Dallas, Texas, which was attended by nearly all the fraternity’s members and pledges, including Blake and the two individual members named in the suit. Furthermore, while the plaintiff claims to have been in Norman the morning of October 11, 2015, he was actually in Arlington, Texas for the Dallas Cowboys game that day, as seen in the Instagram photograph below. Witness accounts confirm that he did not return to Norman until late that evening, and that neither he nor any other pledges were at the chapter house at any point during that day."
"We are offended by these false and inflammatory allegations, and we will vigorously defend our fraternity, its members, and their reputations against this baseless lawsuit."
Jay Novacek was a five-time Pro Bowler in his tenure as a Dallas Cowboy during the team's dynastic run in the early 1990s. In 2008, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for his illustrious career at Wyoming.
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