Former Penn State football star LaVar Arrington takes pride in mentoring two up-and-coming linebackers, even from 3,000 miles away.
He said he knows Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa well enough to guarantee they could not have hazed a former teammate as alleged in a lawsuit filed this week.
Arrington, who played at Penn State in the late-1990s, and more recent team leader Adam Breneman, each said they never experienced or witnessed any football hazing.
Arrington, 41, who was a Butkus Award winner at Penn State and a three-time Pro Bowler for the Washington Redskins, now coaches high school football in Southern California. He said he will stake his reputation on at least two of those accused in this lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of former Nittany Lion defensive back Isaiah Humphries. The civil suit names the university, football coach James Franklin, and defensive tackle Damion Barber as defendants — while claiming Parsons, Luketa and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos helped to facilitate a campaign to harass and haze Humphries.
Barber, who graduated Harrisburg High School a year ahead of Parsons, was a redshirt sophomore last season. The lawsuit notes that Barber was ultimately sanctioned following an investigation by Penn State, though it’s unclear whether his suspension from the season-opener against Idaho was related.
The suit alleges that Penn State, Franklin and Barber violated the Pennsylvania Timothy J. Piazza Anti-hazing Law and the university’s own anti-hazing policies. That law hit the books in 2018, partly in response to the death of Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State student who died in 2017 after being hazed at a fraternity.
The abuse resulted in Humphries giving up his football scholarship at Penn State and transferring to the University of California, the lawsuit states. Humphries is now seeking unspecified financial damages for the harm it caused to his football career, along with severe physical and emotional distress.
Humphries’ attorney, Steven F. Marino of Philadelphia, also represents a former team doctor who is suing Penn State. Marino did return messages seeking comment.
Arrington said he was stunned when reading the lawsuit allegations pointing to Parsons and Luketa as locker room ring leaders in viciously hazing Humphries.
Parsons, a sophomore All-American, wears his No. 11 jersey in Arrington’s honor.
“It’s not in their personalities, not their characteristic traits,” Arrington said of the two linebackers. “Were there a couple of situations Isaiah and Micah and Jesse had? Yes, no doubt. No different than any teammates have.”
“What is tremendously disturbing to me is these three young men I put my good name on, Jesse and Micah and Yetur … I speak to them on a regular basis on development as a person and protecting your brand and protecting who you are and doing what’s right and going above and beyond what your called to do. They’ve embraced those things. They have always listened to me. And they’ve experienced the success of doing it the right way.”
Arrington said he does not know Humphries and does not wish to disparage him. But he did speak with his father, Leonard Humphries, another former Nittany Lion standout, when Isaiah announced he was leaving Penn State in November of 2018.
Leonard Humphries never mentioned that his son had issues with teammates, Arrington said.
Even if the civil lawsuit would be tossed out, Penn State players named in the allegations will have a tough road ahead, Arrington said. They “will have to do damage control.”
On Tuesday, Penn State said in a statement that the university’s Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response, Office of Student Conduct and Penn State Police all investigated Humphries’ allegations. Police forwarded the case to the Centre County District Attorney’s office, which decided not to pursue criminal charges.
Meanwhile, Breneman said he never witnessed any type of hazing in locker rooms at Penn State and the University of Massachusetts, where he finished his career as a tight end.
“Just from what I know about those players and what I know about James Franklin, you’ll never be able to convince me that anything went on in that locker room,” Breneman said. “I know the kind of guys recruited at Penn State. None of those things go on at Penn State.”
Breneman, who now hosts a football podcast and has managed some winning political campaigns in Pennsylvania, added this about the football culture at both of his college stops:
“There’s tension all the time in locker rooms when things are not going well. There’s always friction here and there. But (these allegations) are at a completely different level than we’re talking about …”