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America’s Cheerleading, the company behind the sport’s top uniforms, camps and competitions, is furiously denying allegations that the company facilitated alleged sexual abuse at gyms across the Southeast, outlined in multiple federal lawsuits, and has hired a high-powered defamation attorney to investigate. case.
Varsity Spirit is named as a defendant in several lawsuits filed in three states by civil rights attorney Bakari Sellers and attorneys at the Strom Law Firm; the lawsuits allege widespread sexual abuse of cheerleaders by coaches at various gyms in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The lawsuits allege that managers of Varsity Spirit, as the dominant provider of cheerleading competitions and camps, failed to provide a safe environment. The coaches were not employed by Varsity Spirit, but according to the lawsuits, some of the alleged abuse occurred at Varsity-selected hotels while the teams were participating in Varsity competitions. The lawsuits allege the Varsity failed to implement or enforce procedures to protect athletes from drug, alcohol and abuse.
The company denies the allegations, blaming the individual gyms and trainers named in the lawsuits.
Varsity Spirit and attorneys representing the victims also disagree about how strong the connection is between Varsity Spirit and the gyms where the coaches worked. For example, the lawsuits say the gyms pay Varsity an annual or monthly fee, while Varsity claims the gyms don’t pay annual or monthly fees, but have paid to compete and wear certain apparel.
The cheerleading powerhouse left Thomas Clare, who rose to prominence as co-counsel for Dominion Voting Systems, which accused former President Donald Trump allies Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani of defamation for claiming the election was stolen.
In a letter Tuesday to Sellers and his company, which Varsity Spirit also provided to the AP, Clare said the law firm has made “grossly false” claims about Varsity Spirit that constitute “sham litigation.”
“As Varsity Spirit has stated before and repeatedly, its primary concern is for survivors and their safety, and Varsity Spirit wholeheartedly supports survivors in their pursuit of justice against those responsible,” Clare wrote. “The fact that brave men and women have come forward with specific allegations of abuse by individual coaches and other gym owners hired and supervised does not give you permission to make blatantly false public claims about Varsity Spirit…”
Specifically, Varsity Spirit took issue with a recent lawsuit in which Sellers alleged that the company was “a central participant in a scheme that organized exploitative events where underage athletes were abused and assaulted under the influence of drugs and alcohol.” Clare also accepted another allegation in the court filing that the Varsity Spirit environment, which “promoted free access to minors for the purpose of sexual solicitation, was a method by which the defendants recruited new gym owners, trainers, choreographers, videographers and other associated personnel. “
“What information, evidence or factual basis do you have to support this patently baseless claim regarding Varsity Spirit? We urge you to immediately provide us with any information you have and to make this evidence public,” Clare wrote in the letter.
Sellers said in a statement to The Associated Press that the legal team encourages survivors of sexual abuse in cheerleading to continue to share their experiences.
“We are committed to our clients and to vigorously prosecuting their cases, and we take our responsibilities to our clients and to the court very seriously,” Sellers said. “We hope this does not deter those who have suffered abuse from coming forward.”
According to Tom Becker, Varsity Spirit hosts 400 competitions each year and 300,000 athletes attend the company’s camps each year.
News of the alleged abuse first broke in early September when attorneys at Strom Law filed their first federal lawsuit accusing several cheerleading coaches in Greenville, South Carolina, including one who recently died by suicide, of sexually abusing at least six boys and girls. Over the next two months, six more coaches were named and three more survivors of alleged abuse came forward in the case. Attorneys also filed federal complaints against teenage survivors of sexual abuse by coaches in Memphis, Tennessee, and Raleigh, North Carolina.
No arrests have been made so far. Attorneys for abuse survivors say federal agencies, which asked them to remain anonymous, are investigating the allegations. Officials have not said if they are involved.
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