CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall made his first public comments Saturday regarding a federal lawsuit filed by a former player alleging hazing within the football program.
Mendenhall addressed members of the media after Virginia’s 35-14 loss to North Carolina on Saturday in Charlottesville.
“So, I love running a fantastic football program, in every regard. And every means every,” Mendenhall said. “And I love the young men that I coach, and they know that. The investigation is ongoing, and university policy is that I’m not to speak regarding any of that while the investigation is ongoing. But I am very lucky to be the coach at the University of Virginia. There’s great things ahead for us, a lot of work ahead also, but this team, we have a principle that goes really deep, and that’s family first, last and always. And they’re acting like that, and as coaches we’re acting like that. So that’s really all I’ll say at this point, until the investigation is over.”
Mendenhall didn’t discuss the statuses of wide receivers Doni Dowling or David Eldridge, the two players listed as defendants in former player Aidan Howard’s federal complaint. Both played Saturday, with Eldridge in the starting lineup, but neither recorded a catch.
Howard’s lawsuit charges the university with Title IX violations related to hazing he experienced, beginning shortly after arriving on campus this past summer. It charges that leadership — including Teresa Sullivan, the school president, and the athletic director, Craig Littlepage — “fostered a culture of bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination.” In addition to Dowling and Eldridge, wide receivers coach Marques Hagans and graduate assistant Famika Anae, the son of offensive coordinator Robert Anae, are listed as defendants.
Hagans and Anae coached in Saturday’s game.
Reporters were told multiple times Saturday that Mendenhall would take questions regarding the lawsuit, but the coach left the media room immediately after giving his statement. Robert Anae, who addresses the media after Mendenhall every week on game days, spoke a bit more freely about the hazing allegations.
According to the complaint, Famika Anae watched as Howard was forced into a gladiator-style fight with a fellow freshman teammate and instructed the players watching not to record the incident, saying, “No phones, no phones.” The complaint alleged that Howard suffered a concussion and a broken orbital bone in the fight.
“Well, you know, that thing came out of nowhere, and it kind of blindsided all of us,” Robert Anae said when asked how the team dealt with news of the lawsuit. “So we did look at that as a distraction, and we had to handle it as such and will continue to handle it as such.”
A university spokesman said Friday that the athletic department notified the school Aug. 16 of Howard’s hazing allegations and that its investigation is ongoing.
Howard, who has since transferred to Robert Morris University, filed the federal complaint Oct. 14.
When asked about the decision to play Eldridge and Dowling, Anae spoke purposefully, and carefully.
“I think in the American system you’re presumed innocent until proven [guilty], so that’s my take on the American system,” Anae said. “Those were allegations. Right now we’re just gonna leave them at that.”