Trigger warning: this column contains mentions of sexual assault and suicide.
If you've been involved with cheerleading, you're most likely familiar with Varsity Brands and Varsity Spirit. The entity provides uniforms, equipment and choreography services and hosts cheerleading camps and small and large competitions.
Recently, the conglomerate and its founder were named in several lawsuits along with the U.S. All-Star Federation (USAF), USA Cheer and Bain Capital, Varsity's ownership group. The lawsuits focus on sexual abuse and misconduct from coaches across the U.S.
The issue's handling is strikingly similar to what happened at USA Gymnastics with Larry Nassar. Neither should have been taken lightly, but it seems that Varsity and the USASF, like USAG, exist only to preserve themselves and make money.
The first lawsuit was out of Greensville, South Carolina, where six former students alleged Scott Foster, owner of Rockstar Cheer and several other coaches of sexual abuse of minors and providing drugs and alcohol to minors. The Associated Press reported that Foster, 49 and others affiliated with Rockstar Cheer had sexually assaulted students, sent explicit videos over social media and provided his students with marijuana and alcohol at competitions.
Several state and federal agencies are investigating Foster and company; the lawsuit alleges that there could be up to 100 more survivors of the abuse. However, Foster will not be present to see his and others' consequences. He was found dead in his car on Aug. 22 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Rockstar-brand gyms were all across the U.S. There were franchises in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Arizona. Since the lawsuit was filed, all of those gyms have dropped the Rockstar branding.
The second lawsuit alleges that the founder of Varsity, Jeff Webb, and co. were negligent in protecting athletes from abuse and that they violated the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017. It also named Premier Athletics, a cheerleading franchise based in Knoxville, Tennessee, as a defendant.
Two John Does and a Jane Doe alleged that a coach sent nude photos and lewd videos to the children and instigated non-consensual sexual acts. There were also claims, not listed in the suit, that another athlete engaged in a physical relationship with a coach.
Premier Athletics stated that it fired the coach and reported both claims to USASF and local law enforcement. However, neither were able to substantiate the claim.
There have also been lawsuits filed against Cheer Extreme in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is another multi-location gym. The athlete claimed he was abused at both the Raleigh and Kernersville locations. The survivor stated that the police were not notified of the abuse he suffered after he reported it to Cheer Extreme.
In light of the allegations, the Wake County Public Schools System in North Carolina has since banned its schools from participating in events run by Varsity.
Another lawsuit opened on Nov. 14 against Stingray Allstars in Marietta, Georgia, alleging that a student who was 15 years old at the time was raped by a coach.
Stingray Allstars issued a statement saying that it had reported the claim to the Marietta Police Department when it learned of it in September 2022 and had 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 locations in Ohio, Georgia, and Virginia.
Unfortunately, that was what happened with Nassar as well. The Netflix documentary "Athlete A" uncovered the fact that USAG ignored the filings against Nassar until federal agents were involved. Nassar and any other coaches found guilty of misconduct within cheerleading and gymnastics can be found on the "ineligible" list for their respective sports.
Almost all of the cheerleaders who recently filed suits are represented by Bakari Sellers, Jessica Fickling and Alexandra Benevento.
The attorneys noted the similarities between the Nassar and current cases, and it's clear. Varsity, USASF and others have ignored abuse claims because they're against some of their biggest buyers. These companies don't want to lose money and the way they are stacked allows for abuse to slip through the cracks.
There are age ranges for each division of all-star teams, but they're not great. The USASF allows athletes, either six or nine to 15 years old to compete in the junior division. Even worse, the USASF allows athletes from 13 years old and up to be on the same senior open-division teams.
These Jane and John Does aren't the first to come out about sexual abuse in cheerleading. "Cheer" star Jerry Harris was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for coercing teenage boys into sending him lewd photos and videos and for soliciting sex from minors at competitions. Harris was on a team where there could be 13-year-olds.
Young children should not be on the same team as grown adults, but the age grid allows them to be. It's not safe. SafeSport training can only do so much if its teachings aren't put into action.
All governing bodies of sports should have learned from the Nassar cases, however, they didn't. Do better now before it is too late. Although, it appears it already is for many children.
Ashley Beach is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Ashley know by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org