Former soccer player files lawsuit against North Carolina State alleging abuse by ex-school official

A former North Carolina State soccer player sued the school in federal court Tuesday, saying he was sexually abused for years by the Wolfpack’s former director of sports medicine under the guise of treatment.

The lawsuit filed by Benjamin Locke accuses Robert Murphy Jr. of improperly touching his genitals during roughly 75 to 100 massages that he said he later believed lacked “legitimate” medical necessity between August 2015 and May 2017.

The lawsuit also alleges another male athlete told the school’s Title IX office of his own claim during its investigation, which began earlier this year after Locke came forward and contacted university police. That athlete was not identified.

During the Title IX investigation, the lawsuit states, Locke learned former head coach Kelly Findley allegedly told a senior athletics official in February 2016 that Murphy was “engaging in contact with male student-athletes that he believed was consistent with ‘grooming’ behavior.”

Murphy, who arrived in 2012 from Mercer, was shifted to more administrative duties in 2017 before being promoted in 2018 to associate athletics director. The school said Tuesday that Murphy was placed on administrative leave this past January amid the Title IX investigation. The complaint stated Locke learned in June that Murphy no longer worked at N.C. State due to an “involuntary separation,” though the reasons have not been disclosed.

The Title IX investigation ultimately found “a violation would have been substantiated via the preponderance of the evidence standard” if Murphy remained at N.C. State, according to a letter to Locke from the school’s Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity. According to the lawsuit, Murphy admitted to school investigators that he touched Locke’s genitals with his bare hands but later declined additional interviews.

Attorney Seth Blum, who worked with Murphy during the Title IX investigation, said Murphy performed “appropriate medical procedures that may have included some pro forma touching, but nothing that was ever of a sexual nature.”

“Mr. Murphy has always denied these allegations,” Blum told the The Associated Press. “He denied them as part of the Title IX investigation and he denies them as it comes to this federal lawsuit.”

The AP typically doesn’t identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted or abused but Locke is speaking out publicly. He arrived on campus in January 2015 at 17 years old and never played for the Wolfpack due to injuries before transferring to Lipscomb, where he played from 2017-19 and graduated.

Locke told the AP he wants to “bring light” to his story and empower any other potential victims to come forward “instead of sort of living with the burden, the fear and the result of what could have happened to them.”

“I feel a lot of burden, I feel a lot of responsibility,” he said. “As this happened five, six, seven years ago, I am still today realizing the effects that it has on different parts of my life. … There are moments where I’m like, ‘Oh, this is still impacting me and my relationship with my wife’ or the intimacy I have with her. Or the relationships I have with other people or my self-image and the perception I have of myself.”

Locke was seeking treatment for a lingering groin injury at the time of the alleged abuse. He said working with Lipscomb’s trainers led to a “complete wake-up call” that Murphy’s tactics felt improper. He said he faced depression and anxiety before seeking counseling in 2021.

The complaint names chancellor Randy Woodson, retired athletics director Debbie Yow and former senior associate athletics director Sherard Clinkscales as defendants in oversight roles. Specifically, it states Findley – now head coach at Liberty – informed Clinkscales of concern about Murphy’s conduct before Clinkscales left that year to become Indiana State athletics director.

“I have always and will continue to be a protector and advocate for all student athletes well being,” Clinkscales wrote in a text message to The News and Observer of Raleigh. Yow declined comment in a text message to the AP.

In a statement, N.C. State said campus police conducted an investigation earlier this year and have filed no criminal charges. The school said Locke’s decision to come forward in January “was the first the university had been informed of the accusations” from him or any other athletes.

North Carolina Department of Justice lawyers would typically represent the school as a public entity. In an email, spokeswoman Nazneed Ahmed said the department is working with N.C. State “to determine the appropriate representation in this matter.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified financial damages, as well as asking the school to “identify and notify” any other potential victims from January 2012 to January 2022.