Cheerleader Files Lawsuit Over Sexual Abuse as a Teen at a U.S. All-Star Federation Gym in Ohio
A New York man has filed a lawsuit over sexual abuse he endured as a teen while performing as a cheerleader at a U.S. All-Star Federation (USASF) gym, which he claims the organization did nothing about when informed about the incidents at the hands of a coach.
The complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on November 28 by a plaintiff only identified as John Doe, since the alleged incidents of sexual abuse occurred when he was a minor. The defendants include the USASF, Varsity Brands, Varsity Spirit, USA Cheer, Charlesbank Capital Partners, Bain Capital, LP, ShowPro Choreography, Jeff Webb, Taji Davis and Brandon Hale.
The plaintiff is one of a growing number of mostly young men, and some women and teens, who have filed cheerleader sex abuse lawsuits in recent months against various gyms across the U.S. The complaints indicate teens were regularly groomed, supplied with alcohol and drugs, and then repeatedly sexually abused by coaches in the highly competitive cheerleading competition circuit.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff began working with Hale, Davis and ShowPro in 2014. The abuse began in 2016, when the plaintiff was 17 years old and still a minor, at which time the defendants Hale and Davis allegedly coerced him to a hotel room in Westlake, Ohio for a supposed skills clinic.
“When Plaintiff John Doe 1 appeared at the Defendants’ hotel, Defendants took Plaintiff into their room. Defendants offered John Doe 1 liquor, which Plaintiff John Doe 1 refused,” the lawsuit states. “Thereafter, they commenced to have sex with Plaintiff John Doe 1, who was only 17 years old.”
The lawsuit indicates the men, who were in their 20s, had sex with the plaintiff repeatedly despite his demonstrated reluctance and attempts to leave the hotel room.
Despite the plaintiff informing USASF gym officials of the abuse, the officials instead focused on what they described as Hale giving the plaintiff preferential treatment and took no other actions, allowing Hale to continue to do choreography with underage cheerleaders.
In 2020, following repeated letters to various gyms, plaintiff finally got the attention of an USASF case manager and began cooperating with Ohio law enforcement. However, he was informed law enforcement would not pursue charges because the age of consent in Ohio is 16.
The two coaches were temporarily suspended by USASF, but were reinstated in November 2020 and plaintiff was not notified of the decision to reinstate them.
Lawsuits Claim USASF Turned a Blind Eye to Child Sexual Abuse
The sexual abuse revelations and lawsuits have shaken the cheerleading industry, which faces allegations of ignoring obvious signs of sexual misconduct by coaches involving minors, while raking in obscene profits by forcing parents to pay for hotels, equipment, lessons and transportation; at inflated prices.
In August, U.S. All Star Federation, which manages and runs cheer competitions nationwide, issued a press release (PDF) addressing the complaints and urged its members to report incidents of suspected abuse.
Critics of the organization, including many of the plaintiffs, say there is little way the organization could not have known about the culture of sexual abuse, and rarely investigated or responded to reports when they were submitted. The group has refused to comment on the specific allegations of the lawsuits themselves, as the national organization is a defendant in many, if not all, of those filed so far.
“At all times relevant to this complaint, athletes and their families, including John Doe 1, understood Defendant USASF was responsible for protecting athletes from harm,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, and specifically related to Plaintiff John Doe 1, USASF has failed in its obligation to appropriately investigate reports of misconduct, to communicate internally and with law enforcement about misconduct, and has further failed to operate as intended.”
Sexual Abuse of Minors in Sports
Allegations raised in the cheerleading sexual abuse lawsuits mirror those presented in similar complaints brought in recent years throughout the gymnastics industry.
In December, USA Gymnastics reached a $380 million settlement with more than 500 survivors of sexual abuse by former Olympics gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar. According to testimony presented by more than 150 women and girls, Nassar sexually molested young female gymnasts during medical examinations since at least the early 1990s in his role as a team physician and assistant professor at MSU, and as a USA Gymnastics Medical Coordinator.
Many of the women, who call themselves the Sister Survivors, indicate they told USA Gymnastics officials, Michigan State University (MSU) staff, and others about Nassar’s behavior, but were discouraged from reporting the incidents. Some testimony even suggested officials told the survivors they simply did not know the difference between sexual assault and a medical examination. However, after victims began to step forward publicly, the abuse finally got over-due attention and Nassar was arrested, tried, and found guilty on multiple charges.
Similar allegations have been made against Jr. ROTC programs, and the Olympic diving industry.
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