COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The latest lawsuit in a series alleging widespread sexual misconduct in competitive cheerleading alleges officials allowed two choreographers to continue working after they were investigated for abuse sexual.
Snowballing accounts of alleged cheerleader abuse have led to heightened scrutiny of the sport since the founder of an elite cheerleading gym in South Carolina allegedly took his own life in late August amid an investigation into abuses. The latest trial 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 sex with underage athletes while a web of institutions provides little or no oversight.
A federal lawsuit filed Monday in Ohio widened the scope of the emerging scandal beyond the Southeast. Together, the unidentified plaintiffs from six states – all represented by South Carolina-based law firm Strom – accuse sports governing bodies and major competition institutions of failing to protect underage athletes from detailed abuse.
In the latest case, two men who were hired to train at an Ohio gymnasium invited a 17-year-old cheerleader to their hotel room after midnight in late July 2016, the lawsuit alleges. It says the cheerleader refused their invitations to drink alcohol and the men, then aged 24 and 25, had sex with the teenager multiple times despite his attempts to leave. The gym called a meeting with the boy to discuss any potential inappropriate conduct, but took no action, according to the lawsuit.
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 U.S. All Star Federation case manager touched base , the complainant made a formal report and later cooperated with Ohio law enforcement officials. , according to the lawsuit.
Ohio law enforcement did not press 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 investigation was underway, according to the lawsuit, which adds that the minor provided details of their meeting on a September 23, 2020, Zoom call with an authorized representative of the USASF. ‘USASF.
On Nov. 19, 2020, both men were removed from USA Cheer’s public list of ineligible coaches, the lawsuit says. USASF and USA Cheer created the registry after accusations in 2020 that Jerry Harris — a top trainer featured on a popular Netflix show — solicited sex from two children, the lawsuit alleges. 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 was missing dozens of cheerleading coaches who had been charged or convicted of sexual abuse.
During a Nov. 23, 2020 call, a USASF attorney told the boy in the Ohio case that a detective said he couldn’t pursue the charges without any witnesses, according to the lawsuit. . The attorney said that because of this, “USASF’s hands were tied.”
Each lawsuit names USASF, USA Cheer and Varsity Spirit, a subsidiary of Varsity Brands, as defendants. Lawyers argue that as the main provider of competitions and incentive camps and through its effective control over oversight bodies, Varsity Spirit failed to provide the safe environment it advertised.
Both USASF and USA Cheer were created with interest-free loans from Varsity to govern the growing sport.
Varsity Brands – which is also facing separate antitrust lawsuits – has denied culpability while expressing support for the cheerleaders alleging abuse. Varsity Spirit has acknowledged providing “the necessary support” to establish USASF. But the company denies the idea that it controls the governing body, stressing its independence since its inception. Varsity Spirit recently retained the services of a high-powered attorney to review defamation claims related to the lawsuits.
“To be clear, Varsity supports survivors and their pursuit of justice,” Varsity Brands said in a statement. “We are outraged that predators have taken advantage of cheerleading programs to abuse innocent children’s behavior.”
USASF did not respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.
The scandal has rocked the cheerleading world as competitive season begins. After the allegations surfaced at South Carolina’s Rockstar Cheer, 10 gyms across the Carolinas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Jersey said they would drop the Rockstar name and brand. A North Carolina public school system has banned its athletes from participating in competitions organized by Varsity Spirit, WRAL-TV reported. More recently, Georgia police obtained an arrest warrant for a trainer accused of raping a 15-year-old boy, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.