On Monday, the University of Kentucky fired all four of its cheerleading coaches, including Head Coach Jomo Thompson, following a three-month probe into UK’s cheerleading program. The investigation, conducted by the Office of Student Conduct and Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity, found evidence of hazing practices, alcohol use, and public nudity, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The University of Kentucky has won widespread recognition for its cheerleading program, which won four consecutive national titles in the last four years. In February, a family member of a cheerleader contacted UK faculty to raise concerns over the conduct of the team. The findings of that investigation were released on Monday and all four coaches were dismissed from their posts.
Here’s what you need to know:
UK Cheerleaders Took Part In Hazing Rituals, Alcohol Use, & Nudity
The report by UK officials describes a series of inappropriate behaviors at off-campus events and an annual cheerleading retreat. At the retreat, the report found that cheerleaders snuck in alcohol and went skinny-dipping while alumni were allowed to bring boats and alcohol. The report includes accounts of naked “basket-tosses” off a pier, in which nude or semi-nude cheerleaders were thrown off a dock.
The investigation also found rampant alcohol abuse and some cheerleaders were hospitalized because they were so intoxicated. UK faculty found additional evidence of hazing, including a sexually explicit chant that cheerleaders were made to sing as part of an initiation ritual.
The Coaching Staff Were Found Responsible For Failing To Address These Incidents
Head Coach Thompson transferred to UK from the University of Florida and joined the team in 1996 as a cheerleader before becoming head coach in 2002, according to an interview for UK’s Cheerleading Squad Oral History Project in 2018. All four coaches were former cheerleaders on the team.
The investigation determined that coaching staff “knew or reasonably should have known” about these activities and did not act to remedy them. All four coaches were dismissed and their staff pages on the UK website taken down. UK officials did not find evidence of sexual assault or sexual misconduct. According to KTVQ, when the investigation was first announced, T. Lynn Williamson, who had served as the cheerleading program advisor for nearly four decades, retired.
On May 22, the University of Kentucky “Cheerleading Alumni” released a statement of support for Thompson and his fellow coaches on Twitter. The statement reads:
To say the UK cheerleading advisor and coaches lack integrity is insulting. To suggest that the advisor and coaches didn’t provide proper oversight is absurd. To so harshly penalize a program – especially one that has led such an exemplary existence for four-plus decades – is unfair.
The statement adds, “though what is alleged to have happened with the current squads is regrettable, we support them too, because we believe no person should be defined by their mistakes.”
The UK Cheerleading Program Is One of the Most Successful Programs in the Country
The University of Kentucky has won 24 national cheerleading titles in the last 35 years, making the program one of the most successful in the country. UK has won four consecutive national titles in the last four years alone.
“A commitment we make and renew every day at the University of Kentucky is that the success of our students is at the center of everything that we do. But for that sentiment to be more than words, we must always act in ways that honor that commitment — especially when we discover rare instances where those who supervise and guide our students don’t meet the standards of integrity we expect of each other. This is one of those times,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “The University of Kentucky has built the nation’s premier collegiate cheerleading program. But regrettably, the integrity of the program has been compromised by inappropriate behavior by some squad members on off-campus trips and by lax oversight by the program’s coaches and advisor.”
Investigations Into Outside Business Conflicts-of-Interest Are Ongoing
Assistant Coaches Ben Head and Spencer Chan are currently being investigated for a conflict-of-interest between their relationship with the UK cheerleading program and their privately-owned businesses. The investigation will determine if Chan and Head leveraged their positions at UK to attract clients and unfairly encourage UK cheerleaders to work for them. Chan owns a company called Cheer Expert and Head owns a gym.