Not Something to Cheer About
In a recent investigation by USA TODAY, they found that the top two governing bodies of cheerleading, US All Star Federation and USA Cheer, have not banned nearly 180 individuals affiliated with cheerleading who have faced charges relating to sexual misconduct involving minors. According to the report, more than 140 of them have been convicted, and 74 of them are registered sex offenders. This group includes coaches, choreographers and others directly tied to the activity of cheerleading.
Many believe that the USASF and USA Cheer organizations aren’t taking sufficient enough steps to protect the almost 4 million athletes, that range from the age of 5 through the collegiate level, that are involved in the sport. A recent lawsuit alleges that the organizations have a pattern of hiring officials who are known to be dangerous without supervising them or telling parents or law enforcement.
““I would think that they would want to put their athletes’ safety obviously as a top priority, and that clearly was not happening when a registered sex offender was allowed to be there and own a cheerleading organization still.” -Karrah Pop
Some of the sex offenders who remained involved in the world of cheerleading, that USA TODAY’s investigation discovered included:
Mishelle Robinson, a 44-year-old convicted felon who opened a gym sanctioned by USASF, Empire All Stars, while on Ohio’s sex offender registry.
Kale Dunlap, kept coaching in USASF Texas gyms after being indicted and pleading guilty to online solicitation of a minor and faced sexual assault charges.
Patrick Avard, remained one of the sport’s most sought-after music producers, even though he was convicted in 2003 of two misdemeanors for exchanging explicit photos with a teenage girl.
Ricky Despain, owned a sanctioned USASF Virginia gym even after landing on the sex offender registry for abusing two girls at his gym in 2008.
After USA TODAY shared their findings with cheer officials on August 25, USA Cheer’s banned list of 21 has now more than quintupled in size. And the USASF says any coach banned from another sport is ineligible for USASF membership.
Jerry Harris, one of the stars of the Netflix docuseries Cheer, was arrested by the FBI in September for allegedly producing child pornography. According to a statement from federal officials, Harris is accused of “enticing an underage boy to produce sexually explicit videos and photos of himself.”
On Thursday, December 17th, Harris pleaded not guilty to seven felony charges of sexual misconduct. Even though, “Harris previously admitted to agents that he solicited and received explicit messages on Snapchat from at least 10 to 15 individuals he knew were minors, had sex with a 15-year-old at a cheerleading competition in 2019 and paid a 17-year-old money in exchange for nude photos”, according to court records.
According to legal documents, the seven felony charges include: four counts of sexual exploitation of children, one count of receiving child pornography, one count of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual contact with a minor, and one count of enticement. The acts allegedly took place in Orlando, Florida, Naperville, Illinois and Corsicana, Texas. If convicted, Harris faces a minimum sentence of 10 years for the enticement charge and a minimum of 15 years for the sexual exploitation charges.
Another lawsuit was filed against Jerry Harris in Texas just three days before he was arrested. Two underage twin brothers, who are both competitive cheerleaders, who first met Harris when they were 13 in 2018, are also accusing Harris of sexually abusing them and demanding nude photos from them. The lawsuit also alleges that cheer organizations failed to protect the boys. In a statement made by Sarah Klein, one of the attorneys representing the boys, she commented that “We urge the authorities to undertake a thorough investigation of the United States All Star Federation, Varsity Spirit, and Cheer Athletics to determine which of their executives, employees, and representatives could have stopped Harris’ abuse and failed to do so.”
If you or a loved one is a victim of the sexual abuse perpetrated by an employee, representative or member of a cheer organization, please contact Greg Jones Law at 855-566-3752 or contact us online.