Oct 6, 2017, 7:17 PM ET

Former student sues fraternity after alleging hazing ritual left him with brain damage

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The son of a legendary Dallas Cowboys player is now suing a University of Oklahoma fraternity, alleging that a hazing ritual left him with permanent brain damage so severe he can no longer remember his Social Security number.

According to lawyer Christopher Cooke, Blake Novacek, 20, whose father is former NFL tight end Jay Novacek, was subjected to numerous hazing incidents as he pledged the Gamma Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity in the fall semester of 2015.

"Frankly, Blake's parents sent him off as a happy, healthy, well-adjusted boy and he came back a basket case," Cooke said.

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In court documents related to the lawsuit, Blake Novacek said that on Oct. 11, 2015, he was taken into Shane Musselman's room, where Musselman asked him to recite pledge facts.

When he was unable to do that, the complaint alleges, Novacek was struck in the stomach with a baseball bat, which caused him to "fall backwards and strike his head on a hard object, knocking [him] unconscious."

Cooke, his lawyer, said he was knocked unconscious around 2:30 a.m. and woke up at noon. According to the complaint, he awoke "on a couch in the fraternity house. His clothes had been laundered and were folded beside him."

The complaint alleged that after the incident, Novacek "was then confronted by Defendant Gavin Martindale, who told Plaintiff to keep his mouth shut about the hazing incident."

The lawsuit also includes Martindale and Musselman.

In a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Musselman said: "The allegations against me are completely false, and I have no idea why they are being made. My family is hiring an attorney, and I intend to aggressively fight this suit and defend my reputation."

Martindale told OUDaily: "I'm bewildered by this lawsuit. The allegations are entirely untrue, and I'm mystified why this person is making these claims against me. To be honest, I'm angry about this, and I will be hiring a lawyer to aggressively defend me against these baseless accusations."

Cooke said Novacek had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, bipolar disorder and postconcussive syndrome, and is under the care of numerous doctors.

"All of this was brought on by the injury," Cooke said. "As time has gone on and he realizes the extent of his brain injury, he felt compelled to bring this lawsuit."

"Blake dropped out after the fall semester and he does not currently attend class," he said.

In a statement, the fraternity called Novacek’s allegations "false and inflammatory."

"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," the fraternity said.

"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."

The University of Oklahoma said in a statement: "The university investigates every report of a violation of the Student Rights and Responsibilities Code. It would not be appropriate to comment on matters involved in pending litigation."

The fraternity's national office said in a statement: "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."

Cooke told ABC News today that after Novacek was injured, he lost the ability to process dates. Cooke said the Oct. 11, 2015 date was the closest in Novacek's mind, and that the incident had happened sometime shortly after the OU-Texas game.

Cooke said he plans to amend court papers.

ABC News affiliate WFAA-TV and ABC News' Jenn Metz and Emily Stanitz contributed to this story.

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  • JCLUVU22

    Does sound very fishy to me ". . .he was taken into Shane Musselman's room, where Musselman asked him to recite pledge facts.

    When he was unable to do that, the complaint alleges, Novacek was struck in the stomach with a baseball bat, which caused him to "fall backwards and strike his head on a hard object, knocking [him] unconscious."

    Cooke, his lawyer, said he was knocked unconscious around 2:30 a.m. and woke up at noon. According to the complaint, he awoke "on a couch in the fraternity house. His clothes had been laundered and were folded beside him." . . ."
    [the dates are not concerned more permanent because of he brain damage]

    Sounds like he WAS hazed.

  • one observer

    Feel sorry for this kid if he was, indeed ,injured in other ways as a result of a violent hazing incident (to be determined by the courts). But, most people would be aware that bipolar disorder is not correlated with a brain injury.

  • Abbie1530

    Stop calling it "hazing" and call it what it really is -ASSAULT!

  • disgruntledfan

    its not all bad for the kid: Trump is now president and he is clearly brain damaged and totally mentally messed up!

  • dckhead_con_artist

    Frats have outlived their usefulness like the uaw. Before they served as a networking medium and a place men can meet women and have fun . You can find all that on the internet now

  • Jim Simpson

    Never felt a need to join a fraternity - I didn't need to buy my friends.

  • truthhurts3

    The only people who remember their social security numbers are military folks.

  • ruth bernson

    so what does this say about these things? who ever thought that they were ever good? anyone who ever thought that they were good was wrong. in my opinion, they are breeding houses of certain types of men. not only that, but they take certain men that already have a predisposition for this type of character. the character is arrogant, violent.. abusive. it would have been better if fraternities had never existed.

  • weatheri

    This is where the investigators earn their keep. One side is obviously lying. Forensics, receipts for expenses at claimed activities, etc., good old FACTS will sort it out

  • berlin88

    Just PLEASE get rid of those prehistoric "fraternities" already. They have no function in modern education, and almost all the news coming from them is bad.

  • Chris Jay

    Why didn't he say no?

  • Chris Jay

    This is very common in Universities. I saw similar things take place at The University of Tulsa. I saw 12 year old girls, up to 15 year old girls being allowed into the frat houses, being provided with alcohol and drugs and The University of Tulsa looks the other way. Pot is also so easy to obtain as well as ecstasy at The University of Tulsa. It's not uncommon for young women to be raped and The University of Tulsa cover it up and make the rape victim the perpetrator.

  • Chris Jay

    I'm curious as to why the names in the lawsuit which are public record were blurred out? Anyone can search the public records website for the Oklahoma Court System via their website at oscn . net and the name is right there. Why blur it out?

  • trigger46

    Frat boys become Frat Presidents...

  • servantoftruth

    The animal should have been arrested immediately after the assault.

  • Ronald Tate

    One way to shut all fraternaties down is to sue the britches off of them until they can no longer pay their booze bills.

  • Brian Pan

    "I'm bewildered by this lawsuit. The allegations are entirely untrue,
    and I'm mystified why this person is making these claims against me. To
    be honest, I'm angry about this, and I will be hiring a lawyer to
    aggressively defend me against these baseless accusations."

    This is what a rich college boy liar sounds like. It's practically a cliche.

  • Carole Druian Nix

    HAZING should be banned from every school and every college. Years and years ago it was only pranks and now it has turned into brain damage, bodily damage and death, THERE IS NO NEED FOR THIS!!!!

  • dmom05

    I guess when your kids go to college, you tell them to stay away from fraternities.

  • Douglas Jackson

    I went college and seen some of the stupid things they try to get u to do. The smart kids said I want to join but they would not do anything to stupid u can always quit while it's going on if you let they just pour beer or something down ur throat to u pass out I am going to say ur pretty stupid. Not to let them off the hook but a person has to say no too.

  • 8duckie4

    Some people are just plain sick~ and enjoy making others miserable! No matter the cost! Rich boys playing games! Looks like this one back fired on them! We live and learn!!!

  • olu

    Not sure if the mental disorder can be pinned on this incident even if 100% true as described by the plaintiff...seems like there's a lot of sloppy thinking nowadays on the distinction between the brain and the mind.

  • C Williams

    Many years ago, my experiences with a sorority at TCU were so unpleasant that I withdrew from the university and the sorority. I received my degree from another university and was never involved with a sorority again.

  • BannedNut

    " he can no longer remember his Social Security number."
    Nothing that 8 weeks in boot camp won't cure.

    "Cooke said he plans to amend court papers."
    DAMN social media caught my client elsewhere... at least they didn't have a photo of when he fell with those six beers.

    He WAS there for football... but that couldn't possibly have anything to do with his issues?

  • acedynamo

    What is the point of these fraternities? They never seem to do anything positive for anyone, including their members. The whole concept should be abolished.

  • Elise

    Bipolar disorder from a hazing incident resulting in a traumatic brain injury, really?

  • Enigmatic Pragmatist

    I kind of feel sorry for what the kid went through. But he never heard of the hazards of hazing? Gimme a break.

  • Hanna68

    What is the appeal of fraternities, who think violence and cruelty are cool, and which are staffed with young adults too immature to control their impulses?

  • Dicazi

    "He said, they said" at this point.
    And if his memory for dates is bad, why didn't his lawyer try and verify it before filing the suit?