Life’s a Beach: Haven’t We Learned from USAG?
Trigger Warning: This column contains mentions of sexual assault and suicide.
If you’ve been involved in cheerleading, you’re probably familiar with Varsity Brands and Varsity Spirit. The entity provides uniforms and equipment, provides choreography services, organizes cheerleading camps, small competitions and large competitions.
Recently, the conglomerate and its founder were named in several lawsuits with the United States All-Star Federation (USAF), USA Cheer and Bain Capital, Varsity’s ownership group. Lawsuits focus on sexual abuse and misconduct of coaches across the United States
The issue and the way it was handled is surprisingly similar to what happened at USA Gymnastics with Larry Nassar. Neither should have been taken lightly, but it seems that Varsity and USASF, like USAG, only exist to preserve themselves and make money.
The first trial took place in Greensville, South Carolina, where six former students accused Scott Foster, owner of Rockstar Cheer, and several other coaches of sexually abusing minors and supplying drugs and alcohol to minors. . The Associated pressreported that Foster, 49, and other Rockstar Cheer affiliates sexually assaulted students, posted explicit videos on social media, and provided his students with marijuana and alcohol during competitions.
Foster and company are being investigated by multiple state and federal agencies and the lawsuit alleges there may be as many as 100 other survivors of the abuse. However, Foster will not be present to see his consequences and those of others. He was found dead in his car on August 22 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Rockstar brand gyms were all over the United States. There were franchises in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Arizona. Since the complaint was filed, all of these gyms have dropped the Rockstar brand.
The second trial alleges that USAF founder Jeff Webb and co. were negligent in protecting athletes from abuse and breached the Protection of Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sports Act 2017. He also named Premier Athletics, a Knoxville, Tennessee-based cheerleading franchise, as a defendant.
Two John Does and a Jane Doe alleged that a trainer sent nude photos and obscene videos to children and incited non-consensual sex acts. Another athlete, not listed in the lawsuit, also claimed another athlete had a physical relationship with a trainer.
Premier Athletics said it fired the coach and reported the two claims to USASF and local law enforcement. However, neither was able to substantiate the claim.
Lawsuits have also been filed against Extreme thumbs up in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is another multi-site gym. The athlete claimed to have been abused in Raleigh and Kernersville. The survivor said police were not made aware of the abuse he suffered after reporting it to Cheer Extreme.
In light of the allegations, the Wake County public school system in North Carolina has since banned its schools to participate in events organized by Varsity.
Another lawsuit opened Nov. 14 against Stingray Allstars in Marietta, Georgia, alleging that a then 15-year-old student was raped by a coach.
Stingray Allstars released a statement indicating that it had reported the complaint to the Mariette The police department when it became aware of it in September 2022 and released the athlete-coach and another athlete at the time for conduct issues unrelated to the claim in the lawsuit in February 2021. Stingray has offices in Ohio, Georgia and Virginia.
Unfortunately, this is also what happened with Nassar. The Netflix documentary “Athlete A” exposed the fact that USAG ignored complaints against Nassar until federal agents were implicated. Nassar and all other coaches found guilty of cheerleading and gymnastics misconduct can be found on the “ineligible” list for their respective sports.
Almost all of the cheerleaders who have recently filed lawsuits are represented by Bakari Sellers, Jessica Fickling and Alexandra Benevento.
The lawyers noted the similarities between the Nassar and the current cases, and it’s clear. Varsity, USASF and others have ignored abuse claims because they are against some of their biggest buyers. These companies don’t want to lose money and the way they are stacked allows abuse to slip through the cracks.
There are age groups for each division of all-star teams, but they’re not great. The USASF allows athletes six or nine through 15 years old to compete in the junior division. Worse, the USASF allows athletes 13 and older to compete on the same Open Division senior teams.
These Jane and John Does aren’t the first to talk about sexual abuse in cheerleading. “Cheer” star Jerry Harris has been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for coercing teenagers into sending him obscene photos and videos and for soliciting sex from minors in competitions. Harris was part of a team where there could be 13-year-old players.
Young children should not be on the same team as adults, but the age grid allows them to be. It’s not prudent. SafeSport training can do little if its teachings are not put into practice.
All sports governing bodies should have learned from the Nassar cases, but they did not. Do better now before it’s too late. Although it seems that this is already the case for many children.