3rd ex-NC State athlete sues school in sexual abuse case

Published 11:55 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

By Aaron Beard
AP Sports Writer

A third former North Carolina State athlete has sued the school alleging he was sexually abused by the Wolfpack’s former director of sports medicine under the guise of treatment.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court roughly nine months after the first complaint, accuses Robert Murphy Jr. of improperly touching the plaintiff’s genitals during two massages for hip and groin pain in early 2021 at the school in Raleigh, North Carolina. As with the second athlete to sue earlier this year, the plaintiff’s name is listed as “John Doe” to protect anonymity and doesn’t specify which sport he played.

The Title IX lawsuit alleges the school failed in a “duty of reasonable care” to protect the plaintiff and was “deliberately indifferent” in acting on concerns about Murphy’s conduct. The complaint states the third athlete came forward after learning of similar allegations through the previous lawsuits.

Former Wolfpack soccer player Benjamin Locke was the first to sue in late August. He accused Murphy of improperly touching his genitals during roughly 75 to 100 massages that Locke said he later believed lacked “legitimate” medical necessity between August 2015 and May 2017. That lawsuit also alleged former head coach Kelly Findley told a senior athletics official in February 2016 that Murphy was “engaging in contact … consistent with ‘grooming behavior’” but there was no follow-up action by the school.

The Associated Press typically doesn’t identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted or abused, but Locke spoke publicly.

The second athlete sued in February, accusing Murphy of improperly touching the athlete’s genitals and elsewhere between two separate occasions in 2016.

The allegations in the third complaint are similar. The athlete told a friend he was uncomfortable with Murphy’s skin-to-skin contact with his genitals during the first massage, and he returned when pain lingered, but didn’t allow Murphy to treat him further, according to the complaint.

Durham, North Carolina-based attorney Kerry Sutton, who has worked numerous Title IX cases and sexual harassment matters, represents all three clients. In a statement to The AP, Sutton said: “These men hope each claim will prompt new victims and witnesses to reach out.”

Jared Hammett, a Raleigh-based attorney working with Murphy, declined to comment when reached Friday. An attorney who worked with Murphy previously has said Murphy offered “appropriate medical procedures … but nothing that was ever of a sexual nature.”

In a statement, N.C. State said it is reviewing the lawsuit but couldn’t comment further about a pending legal matter.

The school said previously that Murphy, who arrived in 2012 from Mercer, was placed on administrative leave in January 2022 amid a Title IX investigation tied to Locke’s allegations.

Locke’s complaint stated he learned in June that Murphy no longer worked at N.C. State due to an “involuntary separation,” though reasons weren’t disclosed. The Title IX investigation ultimately found “a violation would have been substantiated via the preponderance of the evidence standard” if Murphy remained, according to a letter to Locke from the school’s Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.