KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A University of Tennessee cheerleader has been fired from the organization following allegations of sexual misconduct in a federal lawsuit. That suit also alleges a Knoxville-based cheer company and the organizing bodies of competitive cheer protected the victim from harm.
The 71-page lawsuit filed on September 27 was obtained by WATE 6. In it, 102 complaints accuse competitive cheer company Varsity Spirit, US All Star Federation, USA Federation of Sports Cheering, private investment companies Bain Capital and Charlesbank Capital Partners in Knoxville-based Premier Athletics of gross negligence, violation of the Protecting Young Victims of Sexual Abuse Act and violations of the RICO Act, among other crimes. Susan Traylor, a general manager for Premier Athletics, and cheerleader Dominick Frizzell are named as individual defenders.
“Nick Frizzell joined the University of Tennessee Spirit Program for the 2022-23 academic year. He was suspended from participating in all spiritual activities on September 16 and was formally dismissed from the program on September 27,” said Tom Satkowiak, Associate Athletics Director of Communications for the University of Tennessee.
“Defendants created a competitive environment by asking young athletes to cross state lines with minimal parental or adult supervision to converge on pre-planned locations, where these athletes were then exposed to drugs, alcohol and predatory behavior by adults, including coaches, choreographers, and music producers.” the lawsuit says.
Two unnamed victims – one from Knox County, the other from Union County – allege in the lawsuit that Dominick Frizzell solicited them for sex and sent them sexually explicit photos and videos. One of the victims was 14 years old at the time of the alleged abuse, according to the lawsuit.
Frizzell is currently listed in the USASF online list of disciplined coaches as temporarily ineligible to coach pending an investigation. Frizzell was not charged with a crime, nor was he arrested.
Attorney Don Bosch, who represents Frizzell, told WATE 6 that his firm has received the lawsuit and is reviewing it. They have no comment at this time.
Plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit that Knoxville-based Premier Athletics continued to allow Frizzell, a member of the University of Tennessee cheer team, to use its Knoxville facility and work as a coach after learning of allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
Premier Athletics Knoxville West released a statement saying the lawsuit “contains numerous inaccuracies and false statements.”
The statement also says that the company that currently owns Premier Knoxville will not own any gyms until August 6, 2021, so the allegations prior to that date do not relate to current ownership.
The company says it “promptly suspended Mr. Frizzell and immediately reported the athlete’s claim to local law enforcement as well as the USASF,” neither of which it says substantiates the claim.
“Premier Knoxville has taken all appropriate and required steps based on the reports it has received and will continue to protect the health and safety of its athletes,” the company said in the statement.
The investigation began when one of the victims contacted law enforcement and the US All Star Federation, the governing body for all star cheerleading and dance in the United States, according to the lawsuit. Frizzell was then sent a letter from the USASF in July informing him of reports of alleged violations of state or federal law and violations of USASF policy.
The lawsuit alleges that Frizzell allegedly sent threatening messages to the minor athlete who made the first report.
After charges were filed against Premier and USASF, the lawsuit alleges a “bungled” internal investigation by Knoxville-based Premier Athletics determined insufficient evidence existed to hold Frizzell accountable, attorneys in the lawsuit say. Frizzell then reportedly continued to coach at Premier and had regular contact with underage athletes throughout the investigation.
Premier Knoxville denied those allegations in their statement, noting that they terminated Frizzell’s employment after local law enforcement and the USASF “did not substantiate” an athlete’s claim of inappropriate photos of Frizzell.
The plaintiffs filed additional reports with law enforcement in mid-September.
It is the second federal lawsuit filed by the Strom Law Firm, which last month filed another lawsuit against Rockstar Cheer and Dance in Greenville, South Carolina. Advocates for survivors include noted civil rights attorney Bakari Sellers and Tennessee State Rep. John Ray Clemmons.
This is a developing story. Download the WATE 6 News app to get updates sent to your phone.
The companies in the lawsuits control nearly all of the multi-billion dollar competitive cheerleading industry. Varsity Defenders is estimated in court documents to control 80-90% of the market, which includes competition, camps, memberships and merchandise.
Sellers said at a Tuesday news conference that he “fully expects criminal charges to be brought in Knox County.”
The plaintiffs are requesting a trial by jury.
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