More than 800 former Kentucky cheerleaders have issued a joint statement in support of the powerhouse program’s coaching staff, which was dismissed Monday after an internal report revealed a “lack of oversight” and a “culture” of hazing, along with other incidents of inappropriate behavior, including public nudity and overindulgence in alcohol.
Head coach Jomo Thompson and assistants Ben Head, Spencer Clan and Kelsey LaCroix were all dismissed after the release of the report, which also detailed an ethical concern after staff members had employed cheerleaders at their personal businesses.
The report also found adviser T. Lynn Williamson, who also served as principal deputy general counsel at the school, culpable. Williamson retired days after learning about the internal investigation.
The school determined the coaches and adviser either knew of or should have “reasonably” known about the inappropriate behavior, some of which occurred in front of staff members.
The alumni’s lengthy statement echoed the support individual cheerleaders had expressed via social media after Monday’s announcement regarding the staff of a program that’s won 24 Division I cheerleading national titles — 18 under coach Thompson — over the last 35 years.
“Our group is unanimous in its support of T. Lynn, Head Coach Jomo Thompson and Assistant Coaches Ben Head, Spender Clan and Kelsey LaCroix,” the statement by the Cheerleading Alumni of the University of Kentucky said. “And 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 mistake.”
Their statement also praised the efforts of the coaching staff and Williamson, and said that the university questioning the integrity of the coaches and alleging a lack of oversight was “insulting” and “absurd.”
Thompson, who led the team to its fourth consecutive national title in 2019, has not responded to ESPN’s requests for comment.
The incidents described in the report — university officials interviewed more than 60 people — largely stem from a retreat at a place called Lake Cumberland in Kentucky and a cheerleading camp in Tennessee.
At the lakeside retreat, cheerleaders were seen engaging in excessive use of alcohol, some of which was provided by former cheerleaders who attended, and doing “basket-tosses” while semi-nude. In Tennessee, cheerleaders were urged to make lewd chants while semi-nude, per the report.
“The adviser and the coaches failed to stop a culture of hazing, alcohol use and public nudity at off-campus activities where they were present,” said Eric N. Monday, UK’s executive vice president for finance and administration, in the school’s statement. “Our students deserve more responsible leadership and the University of Kentucky demands it.”
The school is also investigating the program’s use of school funds.
A national search for the program’s next coach has already started.
“This must be a championship-level program both on and off the court and playing fields,” athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in the school’s statement. “And as with all our sports, that will be our goal — every day.”