UT cheerleader, Knoxville cheer gym named in sex abuse lawsuit

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A University of Tennessee cheerleader has been dismissed from the organization after accusations of sexual abuse in a federal lawsuit. That suit also alleges a Knoxville-based cheer company and the organizing bodies of competitive cheer failed to protect victims from harm.

The 71-page lawsuit filed Sept. 27 was obtained by WATE 6. In it, 102 plaintiffs accuse competitive cheer company Varsity Spirit, US All Star Federation, USA Federation of Sport Cheering, private investment companies Bain Capital and Charlesbank Capital Partners and Knoxville-based Premier Athletics of gross negligence, violating the Protecting Young Victims From Sexual Abuse Act and violations of the RICO Act. Susan Traylor, a general manager for Premier Athletics, and cheerleader Dominick Frizzell are named as individual defendants.

“Nick Frizzell joined the University of Tennessee Spirit Program for the 2022-23 academic year. He was suspended from participation in all spiritual activities on Sept. 16 and was formally dismissed from the program on Sept. 27,” said Tom Satkowiak, associate athletics director of communications for the University of Tennessee.

“Defendants established a competitive environment soliciting young athletes to cross state lines with minimal parental or adult supervision to converge at pre-scheduled locations where these athletes were then exposed to drugs, alcohol, and predatory conduct by adults, including coaches choreographers, and music producers ,” the lawsuit states.

Two unnamed victims — one from Knox County, the other from Union County — allege in the lawsuit that Dominick Frizzell solicited them for sex and sent sexually explicit photos and videos. One of the victims was 14 years old at the time of the alleged abuse, according to the lawsuit.

Frizzell is currently listed in the USASF online list of disciplined coaches as temporarily ineligible to coach pending an investigation. Frizzell has not been charged with a crime nor has he been arrested.

Attorney Don Bosch, who is representing Frizzell, told WATE 6 that his firm has received the lawsuit and they are reviewing it. They have no comment at this time.

Plaintiffs contend in the lawsuit that Knoxville-based Premier Athletics continued to allow Frizzell, a member of the University of Tennessee cheer team, to use their Knoxville facility and work as a coach after learning of allegations of sexual abuse made against him.

Premier Athletics Knoxville West released a statement saying the lawsuit “contains many inaccuracies and false statements.”

The statement also says the company that currently owns Premier Knoxville did not own any gyms until Aug. 6, 2021, so that allegations prior to that date do not pertain to current ownership.

The company says they “promptly suspended Mr. Frizzell and immediately reported the athlete’s claim to local law enforcement as well as the USASF,” neither of whom they say substantiates the claim.

“Premier Knoxville has taken all of the appropriate and necessary steps based on the reports it received and it will continue to protect the health and safety of its athletes,” the company said in the statement.

The investigation began when one of the victims contacted law enforcement and the US All Star Federation, the governing body for all star cheerleading and dance in the United States, according to the lawsuit. Frizzell was then sent a letter from the USASF in July notifying him of reports of alleged violations of state or federal law and violations of the USASF policies.

The lawsuit contends Frizzell allegedly sent threatening messages to the minor athlete who made the initial report.

After the allegations were made to Premier and the USASF, the lawsuit claims a “bungled” internal investigation by the Knoxville-based Premier Athletics determined that insufficient evidence existed to hold Frizzell accountable, attorneys say in the lawsuit. Frizzell then reportedly continued to coach at Premier and had regular contact with underage athletes during the entirety of the investigation.

Premier Knoxville denied these allegations in their statement, noting that they terminated Frizzell’s employment after local law enforcement and USASF “did not substantiate” a claim by an athlete of inappropriate photos received from Frizzell.

Plaintiffs filed additional reports to law enforcement in mid-September.

It is the second federal lawsuit from Strom Law Firm, which filed another lawsuit last month against Rockstar Cheer and Dance in Greenville, South Carolina. Attorneys for survivors include noted civil rights lawyer Bakari Sellers and Tennessee State Rep. John Ray Clemmons.

This is a developing story. Download the WATE 6 News app to get updates sent to your phone.

The companies in the lawsuits control nearly all of the multi-billion competitive cheerleading industry. Varsity Defendants are estimated in court documents to control 80-90% of the market, which includes competition, camps, memberships and merchandise.

Sellers said in a Tuesday press conference that he “fully expects criminal charges to be brought forth in Knox County.”

The plaintiffs are requesting a trial by jury.

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