“That’s disgusting”: young cheerleaders put together a bombshell suit against a celebrity coach

Photo illustration The Daily Beast/Getty/Handout

A competitive cheerleader was hit with another major lawsuit Tuesday, claiming a Tennessee gym created an environment that allowed one of its celebrity coaches to sexually and emotionally abuse at least two teenage athletes for years.

Among them: a 15-year-old boy who told The Daily Beast a coach sent him sexually explicit messages, photos and videos months earlier this year when he was 14. When the coach learned he was being investigated by the sport’s governing body, the US All-Star Federation (USASF), over complaints from another athlete, the teenager said the messages turned ominous—and included threats to “destroy” the first whistleblower.

“He made it feel like it was a normal thing and it was okay,” the boy, identified as John Doe 1 in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Tennessee, said of the abuse. “It wasn’t fair. I feel like it was happening to more people.”

John Doe 1 is one of two teenagers in a lawsuit that requires a jury trial. Among the defendants named in the suit are Varsity Spirit, its affiliated brands and its former founder Jeff Webb; USASF; USA Cheer; Charlesbank Capital Partner; Bain Capital; Premier Athletics, where two teenagers were allegedly abused, and gym manager Susan Traylor and trainer Dominick “Nick” Frizzell.

Frizzell is well known in the fan world and has previously competed with the nationally known All-Stars team. She is currently a cheerleader at the University of Tennessee and has a large following on social media, including 31,000 followers on Instagram and 48,000 on TikTok. (Both accounts went private on Tuesday morning.)

A University of Tennessee spokesperson told The Daily Beast that Frizzell was suspended from participating in the school’s Spirit program activities on Sept. 16 and was “officially dismissed from the program” on Tuesday.

via Facebook/Premier Athletics – Knoxville West

The lawsuit, obtained by The Daily Beast, alleges Traylor allowed Frizzell to “emotionally, physically and sexually exploit and abuse … young Premier athletes.” “Premier Athletics and defendant Frizzell, along with other gyms and coaches, were authorized and placed in positions of trust and authority by the University Defendants, while the University Defendants knew or should have known that these same coaches and gyms were pervasively abusing athletes or allowing the abuse of athletes,” the lawsuit added.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, USA Cheer CEO Lauri Harris said the allegations are “tragic and our hearts are broken for all the victims of abuse.” “Sexual abuse and misconduct in all its forms is reprehensible and has no place in sport or society,” Harris added. “USA Cheer will continue to work with the entire cheerleading community and all relevant agencies to rid it of bad actors and hold those responsible accountable.”

An attorney representing Premier Athletics has denied the allegations, claiming the lawsuit contains “many inaccuracies and false statements” about the gym and Traylor. “The health and safety of the athletes who train at its facilities is extremely important to Premier Knoxville,” said attorney Chad Hatmaker. “Premier Knoxville has taken all appropriate and necessary steps based on the reports it has received.”

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Varsity Spirit said they rejected “any allegation that Varsity Spirit facilitated such unthinkable behavior.” “We are outraged that predators have used cheerleading programs to abuse innocent children,” the statement said.

The other named defendants did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.

For Mary Doe, the mother of John Doe 1, who also requested anonymity, the idea that she was forced to come forward and file a lawsuit against the people who were supposed to educate and protect her son “is maddening.” The lawsuit alleges that Mary Doe was not informed of the allegations made by the first athlete against Frizzell until this month—and that Premier never contacted her or her son after they opened the investigation.

“I’m angry that we had to do this,” Mary Doe said. “I’m angry that going forward, exposing and making sure that something happens to the people who completely ruined this and didn’t protect my son, it has to be a public situation. It is a necessary evil that must happen.”

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The lawsuit is just the latest sickening sexual abuse scandal to hit the cheerleading community. Earlier this month, The Daily Beast first reported on a criminal complaint filed against Scott Foster, the prominent South Carolina cheerleading coach who died by suicide in August. He is alleged to have sexually abused male and female athletes and operated a culture that allowed his staff to do the same. His gym, Rockstar Cheer, has since closed “indefinitely.” Both lawsuits allege that well-known private equity firm Bain Capital cashed in on the chaos.

The cheerleading community has also been rocked by the 12-year prison sentence of Jerry Harris, the former star of Netflix’s Cheer who pleaded guilty to charges including child pornography and sex crimes against minors, as well as lawsuits against famed Cheer Athletics coach Jason McCartney, who was accused of “twisted” sexually abusing his Texas athletes.

“This lawsuit makes clear that this is not an isolated incident in South Carolina,” Bakari Sellers of the Strom Law Firm, one of the attorneys who filed Tuesday’s lawsuit, said in a statement. “This is a national epidemic of abuse that has infected all competitive cheerleading enabled and covered up by Varsity Spirit, the U.S. All Star Federation (USASF) and Bain Capital.”

The lawsuit filed Tuesday takes direct aim at Premier Athletics of Tennessee, which purchased the Varsity Spirit in 2005. “The Cheer, Dance and Tumble Gym” is a USASF member gym that prides itself on having “highly trained” and “highly qualified” instructors.

The lawsuit alleges that in 2018, when John Doe 2 was just 14 years old, he met 19-year-old Frizzell while they were both athletes at Premier Athletics. Frizzell added the teenager on Snapchat, but it wasn’t until two years later, the lawsuit states, that Frizzell “finally convinced Plaintiff John Doe 2 to meet, and they began engaging in oral sex and other sexual conduct.”

“When Defendant Frizzell turned twenty-one, he told Plaintiff John Doe 2 that he might get in trouble for having sex with Plaintiff John Doe 2,” the lawsuit states. “Yet the behavior continued.”

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The lawsuit alleges that Premier Athletics knew about the “ongoing sexual relationship,” but no one ever questioned “Frizzell’s continued interaction” with John Doe 2 or “any other minor athlete.” Instead, Frizzell was hired as a coach.

Around the same time, in 2020, John Doe 1 started cheering at Premier Athletics and became aware of Frizzell, who is described in the lawsuit as a “cheerleader.” By the end of 2021, Frizzell, who was in his early 20s, followed John Doe 1 on Snapchat — even though he was aware that John Doe 1 was only 14 years old, the lawsuit says.

In January 2022, Frizzell began sending John Doe 1 “sexually explicit messages and photos of himself,” including photos of his penis and videos of him masturbating, the lawsuit alleges. On several occasions, Frizzell also allegedly asked John Doe 1 to meet, including once in May when the two had oral sex.

About a month later, the lawsuit alleges, John Doe 1 learned that a fellow minor athlete was also receiving sexually explicit photos from Frizzell—and that another teenager asked Frizzell to “stop acting predatory.” (A fellow minor athlete is not included in the lawsuit.)

Shortly thereafter, John Doe 1 switched to a new gym. The teenager told The Daily Beast that despite changing gyms — a decision he said was “the best choice” — and despite Frizzell knowing a sexual misconduct complaint had been filed against him, he still contacted John Doe 1.

In one July 2022 message, he “boasted” that he was “not permanently banned” and that Susan Traylor said she would not fire him, the lawsuit states, adding that Frizzell sent John Doe 1 “numerous messages threatening a minor athlete who made first report.”

John Doe 1 told the Daily Beast that some of the messages included Frizzell “wanting to destroy” the teenager who reported him. He said he soon learned that some people at Premier had been interviewed about Frizzell’s bad behavior – but neither he nor his mother had ever been contacted.

“They never contacted us, talked about everything,” Mary Doe said. “That’s infuriating.”

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The lawsuit alleges that Frizzell even attempted to contact John Doe 1 in an attempt to influence how he would answer questions about their interactions. Earlier this month, John Doe 1’s new gym contacted Mary Doe to inform her that Premier Athletics was investigating allegations of abuse against Frizzell and that the allegations involved her son.

“It was a whirlwind,” added Mary Doe, who eventually called the police. “It drives me absolutely nuts.”

“Ultimately, defendant Premier Athletics’ flawed internal investigation determined that there was insufficient evidence to hold defendant Frizzell liable,” the lawsuit states, adding that the decision was based, at least in part, on the fact that John Doe 1 left the gym.

According to the lawsuit, Premier Athletics acknowledged in an Instagram statement on Sept. 18 that an “additional report” had been filed with police, but did not provide any information.

In a statement, Premier Athletics attorney Chad Hatmaker said Traylor was told by an athlete on June 26, 2022 that he had received inappropriate photos from Frizzell. “No copies or screenshots of photographs were provided to support this allegation and this was the first time Ms. Traylor or Premier Knoxville had received reports of this alleged misconduct,” Hatmaker said, adding that Frizzell was suspended and the athlete’s allegation was immediately reported to local police as well as USASF.

The statement said police “did not substantiate the complaint, nor did the USASF,” but Frizzell was fired by Premier Knoxville. On Sept. 18, the statement added, the gym was notified of another student—believed to be John Doe 1—who had a “physical relationship” with Frizzell. But the gym says neither the teenager nor his mother reported the claim — but Premiere Athletics went to the police and the USAF that day.

“After reporting the matter to the police, Premier Knoxville had no contact with the alleged victim or his family in order to avoid being falsely accused of interfering with the police investigation,” the gym’s statement added.

For Mary Doe, the latest allegations against Frizzell are symptomatic of an ongoing problem in the cheerleading community. Both she and her son said they hope the lawsuit will land Frizzell in prison and make Premier “accountable for what they did.”

“It’s disgusting,” she said.

According to USA Cheer’s list of ineligibility, Frizzell’s USASF membership as a coach and athlete has been temporarily suspended “pending an investigation” for violating policies “relating to the protection of athletes.”

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