This morning, the University of Kentucky dismissed the entire coaching staff of its championship cheerleading program following a three-month investigation into hazing activities, alcohol use and public nudity during off-campus events. UK released the report of the investigation by the Office of Student Conduct and Office of Institution Equity and Equal Opportunity, which found that Head Coach Jomo Thompson, Assistant Coaches Ben Head, Spencer Clan and Kelsey LaCroix, and longtime program advisor T. Lynn Williamson failed to provide reasonable oversight during these events, which put team members at risk.
You can read all of it on UK’s website. Here are the biggest takeaways.
The phone call that started the investigation
In February, a family member of a UK cheerleader contacted a faculty member to raise concerns. Here’s the written report of that phone call:
“I received a call from XXXXXXX regarding the cheerleading team. She informed me that the squad was on a boat, drinking was involved, and the cheerleaders were encouraged to go topless. She also said during the retreat in [Tennessee], the cheerleaders were required to stand up on a table and sing a song that had major sexual content. After they sang it once, they were encouraged to sing it again with their clothes off. She said both [the cheerleading advisor] T. Lynn [Williamson] and the head coach, [Jomo Thompson] were there. She said that a previous assistant coach, Debbie [Love] videotaped this as one point but was forced to remove the video from her phone.”
The UK Cheerleading Strip Chant
The report says a sexually explicit chant created by UK Cheerleaders in the late 1970s became the focal point of an initiation activity that most recently took place at the 2019 Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) Camp at East Tennessee State. New members of the cheerleading team were required to learn the chant and sing it one at a time in front of older members in rooms split by sex. Initially, there was an allegation that female members were required to remove a piece of clothing and/or do the chant while topless, but no team members corroborated it; male team members were told to wear outfits without underwear and to remove a piece of clothing if they got part of the chant wrong. Those items of clothing included shoes or socks, but no team members corroborated that they had to remove their shorts or pants. UK Cheerleading’s coaches and advisors, who are all former members of the team, deny knowing about this initiation activity or being present during it.
Even though alcohol was forbidden at the UCA Camp, team members snuck it in, of which Thompson admitted he was aware.
Topless/Bottomless basket-tosses at Lake Cumberland retreat
Every year, UK Cheerleading holds a retreat on Lake Cumberland. Even though this is a non-alcohol University sponsored event, team members admitted to sneaking booze in and secretly drinking it in their cabins or in Gatorade bottles at team functions. UK Cheerleading alumni would also attend the retreats and bring their boats for team members to use for water skiing and tubing. The boats were stocked with booze, although Thompson said he told all cheerleaders they were not allowed to drink on the boats, even if they were of legal drinking age. The alcohol was not confiscated.
Among the activities that took place were topless (female) or bottomless (male) basket-toss stunts into the water. The tradition is for freshman cheerleaders, new cheerleaders, and anyone who could not safely do the basket-toss on land to have the experience of doing the basket-toss and landing in the water, but other cheerleaders participated as well.
During the investigation, it came to light that some team members voluntarily, or through peer pressure, did the basket-toss stunt either topless (females) or bottomless (males). Two team members stated in their interviews that they did a basket-toss while topless, 11 stated that they observed a topless or bottomless basket-toss during their time on the team, and seven individuals stated that although they had not done or seen one done they had heard about others engaging in topless or bottomless basket-tosses. There is no indication that the individuals engaging in this behavior found it to be unwanted or unwelcome.
Several team members said they believed the coaching staff was aware of the activity and typically watched from the dock or shore nearby. All coaches denied supervising the basket-tosses, with Thompson denying seeing nudity during any basket-tosses during his time as head coach. Coach Head said he was aware of the basket-tosses taking place, but denied seeing nudity. Coach Clan said he was aware of topless basket-tosses from his time as a cheerleader but didn’t believe anyone was forced to do it. Team members said Advisor Williamson was in the kitchen preparing meals during the basket-tosses but recalled seeing them happen in the past.
He was unable to give an exact date but stated that either during the 2017 or 2018 retreat, he recalled having seen a female cheerleader do a basket-toss while topless. He did not have his glasses on at the time as he had just walked down to the dock and was about to go swimming. At first, he was unsure what he was seeing, and it shocked him because he had never seen anything like this in his many years at the retreat. When he realized what the cheerleader had done, he left the dock area.
One cheerleader claimed skinny dipping happened at the Lake Cumberland retreat, although no one admitted to actually doing it.
Some will go swimming at night – half mile walk – will be intoxicated and go down – I went my first year because of seniors telling me – normally the first night – skinny dip – post in group message “who wants to go skinny dipping” Don’t know if it occurred this year – was pushed back to second night because of weather – tired from running – first three years it did okay.
Cheerleaders worked for assistants and the advisor
Both Assistant Coach Head and Assistant Coach Clan owned and operated gyms and employed cheerleaders, which the report says could be seen as a conflict of interest. Advisor Williamson also paid cheerleaders and assistant coaches to do lawn care or other personal work for him at his home, a service he stated he paid $15 per hour for, and rounded up the hours.
No evidence of sexual assault or sexual misconduct
The report from UK’s Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity cited allegations of team members being touched in a sexual manner without consent and forced oral sex, but no one confirmed them, so they were concluded to be without merit.
These include that some team members were touched in a sexual manner without their consent, that male team members compared sizes of their genitalia, and that students were forced to engage in oral sex. There were no individuals who confirmed any of these allegations. With no information provided by any individual interviewed to suggest that these allegations occurred, Institutional Equity has concluded these allegations are without merit.
No NCAA violations
Also important to note: because cheerleading is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, there will not be any NCAA violations stemming from this investigation.
To read the full report, click here.