Cheerleading Company Denies Involvement in Abuse, Hires Big Gun Lawyer

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The American cheerleading company behind the sport’s best uniforms, camps and competitions vehemently denies accusations that the company helped facilitate alleged sexual abuse at Southeast gyms described in a series of federal lawsuits, and has hired a very powerful libel lawyer to investigate the case.

Varsity Spirit has been named as a defendant in multiple lawsuits filed in three states by civil rights attorney Bakari Sellers and attorneys from the Strom law firm; the lawsuits allege widespread sexual abuse of cheerleaders by coaches at various gymnasiums in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The lawsuits allege that executives at Varsity Spirit — as a primary provider of competitions and incentive 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 attended college competitions. The lawsuits allege that Varsity failed to implement or enforce procedures to protect athletes from drugs, alcohol and abuse.

The company denies those charges, attributing responsibility to the gyms and individual trainers named in the lawsuits.

Varsity Spirit and the attorneys representing the victims also disagree on the strength of the connection between Varsity Spirit and the gyms where the trainers worked. For example, the lawsuits state that the gyms pay annual or monthly fees to Varsity, while Varsity claims that the gyms do not pay annual or monthly fees, but paid to attend competitions and wear certain clothing.

The cheerleading powerhouse has retained Thomas Clare, who rose to prominence as a co-adviser to Dominion Voting Systems, who accused Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani — allies of former President Donald Trump — of defamation for allegedly falsely claimed that the election was stolen.

In a Tuesday letter to Sellers and his firm also delivered to the AP by Varsity Spirit, Clare said the law firm made “patently false” statements about Varsity Spirit in what amounts to a ” fictitious dispute”.

“As Varsity Spirit has stated many times before, its concern is for survivors and their safety first, 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 to make specific allegations of abuse against individual trainers and other employees and supervised by gym owners, does not entitle you to make public statements that are obviously wrong about Varsity Spirit…”

Specifically, Varsity Spirit challenged a recent court filing in which Sellers alleged that the company served “as a central player in the scheme of hosting exploitative events where underage athletes were sexually abused and assaulted. under the influence of drugs and alcohol”. Clare also disputed another allegation in the court filing that Varsity Spirit’s environment “promoting free access to underage minors for the purpose of sexual solicitation was the method by which defendants recruited new gym owners, trainers, choreographers, videographers and other affiliated personnel.”

“What information, evidence, or factual basis do you have to support this patently unsupportable claim regarding Varsity Spirit?” We urge you to provide us with all the information you have – and also to make this evidence public – immediately,” Clare wrote in the letter.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Sellers said the legal team encourages survivors of sexual abuse to continue sharing their experiences.

“We are committed to our clients and vigorously pursue these cases and take our responsibilities to clients and the court very seriously,” Sellers said. “We hope this does not have the effect of deterring those who have suffered abuse from coming forward.”

Varsity Spirit hosts 400 competitions each year and 300,000 athletes attend the company’s camps each year, according to Tom Becker, who works with a consulting firm that helps the cheerleading company respond to media inquiries.

News of the alleged abuse first spread in early September when Strom Law attorneys filed their first federal lawsuit charging multiple cheerleading coaches in Greenville, South Carolina, including one who recently died by suicide, d sexually abused at least six boys and girls. Over the next two months, six more coaches were named and three more survivors of the alleged abuse came forward in the case. Attorneys have also filed federal lawsuits for teenage survivors of sexual abuse by cheering coaches at gyms in Memphis, Tennessee, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

So far, no arrests have been made in any of these cases. Lawyers for the abuse victims say federal agencies – who asked them not to be identified – are investigating the allegations. Officials did not say whether they were involved.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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