Allegations of cheerleading abuse rise to 20 with latest case


Associated Press / Report for America

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The latest lawsuit in a series alleging widespread sexual misconduct across competitive animation alleges officials allowed two choreographers to continue working after being investigated for sexual abuse.

Snowball accounts of alleged abuse by cheerleaders have heightened scrutiny of the sport since the founder of an elite South Carolina cheerleading gym took his own life in late August amid of an abuse investigation. The latest lawsuit brings the number of accusers to 20.

The lawsuits paint a sordid picture of a sports scene in which coaches use their power to share drugs and initiate sexual relations with underage athletes while a network of institutions provides weak or nonexistent oversight.

A federal complaint filed last week in Ohio expanded the scope of the growing scandal beyond the Southeast. Together, the unidentified plaintiffs from six states, all represented by the South Carolina-based law firm Strom, accuse the sport’s governing bodies and major competitive institutions of failing to protect underage athletes from detailed abuse.

In the latest case, two men who were hired to provide training at an Ohio gym invited a 17-year-old entertainer to their hotel room after midnight in late July 2016, according to the lawsuit. He says the entertainer refused his invitations to drink alcohol and the men, then aged 24 and 25, had sex with the teenager several times despite his attempts to leave. The gym called a meeting with the boy to discuss any possible misconduct, but took no action, the suit says.

The plaintiff says he sent details of the encounter in an anonymous email to two gyms in California and North Carolina in June 2020. After a case manager from the United States All Star Federation touched base, the plaintiff made a formal report and subsequently cooperated with Ohio law enforcement officials. , according to demand.

Ohio law enforcement did not seek charges because the plaintiff was over 16 — the state’s age of consent — at the time, according to the lawsuit.

USASF suspended the two accused employees while a third party was investigated, according to the lawsuit, which adds that the minor provided details of his Sept. 23, 2020, Zoom call with an authorized USASF representative .

On November 19, 2020, both men were removed from USA Cheer’s public list of ineligible coaches, according to the lawsuit. USASF and USA Cheer created the registry after allegations in 2020 that Jerry Harris, a prominent coach who appeared on a popular Netflix show, solicited two children for sex, according to the lawsuit. Harris eventually pleaded guilty to sex crimes.

But a recent journalistic investigation suggests that the list is incomplete. In September 2020, USA Today reported that the registry lost dozens of cheerleading coaches who had been criminally charged or convicted of sexual abuse.

In a Nov. 23, 2020 call, a USASF attorney told the boy in the Ohio case that a detective said he couldn’t file charges without any witnesses, according to the lawsuit. The lawyer said the USASF’s “hands are tied” because of this.

Each suit names USASF, USA Cheer and Varsity Spirit, a subsidiary of Varsity Brands, as defendants. Lawyers argue that, as a dominant provider of competitions and cheer camps and thanks to its effective control over regulatory bodies, Varsity Spirit failed to provide the safe environment it advertised.

USASF and USA Cheer were created with interest-free loans from Varsity to govern the growing sport.

Varsity Brands, which also faces separate antitrust lawsuits, has denied wrongdoing while voicing its support for the cheerleaders who allege abuse. Varsity Spirit acknowledged that it provided “necessary support” to establish USASF. But the company denies it controls the governing body, emphasizing its independence from its inception. Varsity Spirit recently hired a high-powered attorney to consider defamation claims related to the lawsuits.

“To be clear, Varsity stands with the survivors and their quest for justice,” Varsity Brands said in a statement. “We are outraged that predators would take advantage of animated shows to abuse innocent children. We reject any accusation that Varsity Spirit allowed such unthinkable behavior.”

USASF did not respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.

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Scandal has engulfed the world of cheerleading as the competitive season begins. After the allegations surfaced at South Carolina’s Rockstar Cheer, 10 gyms in the Carolinas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Jersey said they would drop the Rockstar name and brand. Read also : Trevor Lawrence: “We’re taking it one day at a time” | Press Conference. A public school system in North Carolina banned its athletes from participating in Varsity Spirit competitions, WRAL-TV reported. Most recently, police in Georgia obtained an arrest warrant for a coach accused of raping a 15-year-old boy, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

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