A pair of award-winning cheerleading stars with a hefty Instagram following allege they were molested by their coach as teenagers while training at gyms in Texas.
Lawyers for 22-year-old twins Hannah and Jessica Gerlacher said in a civil lawsuit filed in Travis County on Monday that the sexual abuse began when the sisters were 15 years old. They allege their coach Jason McCartney repeatedly fondled and groped them at Cheer Athletics gyms in Frisco and Plano.
According to the suit, McCartney used the pretense of “spotting” the twins as an excuse to touch their breasts, crotches, and buttocks, and push his erection against them. The twins say in the suit they now look back knowing the spotting was not for their safety but “for his own sick pleasure.”
McCartney also instructed Hannah to sit on his lap and fondled her genitals, the suit says.
The lawsuit alleges that on one occasion during team tryouts, an event where parents were forbidden from attending, McCartney pressed Hannah up against the cabinets. He had one hand on her neck, while his body was pressed against hers. “Hannah was too frightened to make any noise as he touched her body,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that the twins anonymously filed a complaint with the U.S. All Star Cheer Federation on its website, alleging McCartney had sexually abused them. Officials at USASF “took no action” to investigate the allegations or notify parents and didn’t suspend McCartney, the lawsuit alleges.
The Gerlachers, cheer competitors turned coaches and social media influencers with more than 60,000 Instagram followers, also name Cheer Athletics and the USASF as defendants, accusing them of failing to act when the anonymous complaint was filed against McCartney who, after coaching the twins, became co-owner at Cheer Athletics’ Austin gym.
The lawsuit comes weeks after an independent inspector general identified failures by the FBI to properly examine complaints of sexual abuse against Larry Nassar, the former doctor of the U.S.A. Gymnastics national team and Michigan State sports, who continued to abuse at least 70 young athletes between 2015 and 2016.
A lawyer for the Gerlachers, Michelle Simpson Tuegel, who has provided legal counsel to survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse including Olympic gymnast Tasha Schwikert, told The Daily Beast that McCartney’s alleged abuse seemed to mimic that pattern.
“The pattern of brushing aside sexual abuse in the sport of cheerleading is sadly pretty similar to what we witnesses in gymnastics when I represented the Nassar survivors,” Tuegel said.
She slammed the gym’s efforts to defend McCartney, calling out the facility for a repeated inclination to defend and support alleged sexual predators at the expense of young athletes.
An investigation by USA Today in September found that more than 100 people who were convicted of sexual misconduct involving minors were still actively involved in cheer circles and had not been banned by the sport’s governing bodies USASF and USA Cheer.
USASF issued a statement Monday condemning sexual assault and asserting that they have taken “significant steps” to respond to misconduct allegations.
“We deplore any instance of sexual misconduct or harassment of our members, and we have taken significant steps to respond to reports of misconduct and to make it clear that there is no place for sexual predators in the cheer and dance community,” the statement said.
The lawsuit is not the first time USASF and Cheer Athletics’ have been entangled in sexual assault allegations. Last year, when two teen brothers accused Jerry Harris from the Netflix series Cheer of grooming them, they listed three organizations connected to Harris as co-defendants in their lawsuit: Cheer Athletics, Varsity Spirit and USASF.
Cheer Athletics said Harris was only ever one of their athlete participants however lawyers for the brothers said they wanted authorities to investigate the organizations to determine if any executives and employees could have stopped Harris’ abuse but failed to do so.
The Gerlacher twins issued a statement on Monday that criticized inaction around abuse and the failures of gyms and sports organizations to protect young athletes.
“The silence surrounding abusive coaches, and the failures of gyms like Cheer Athletics and USASF to protect minor athletes has to stop,” the twins wrote. “We have gained strength from watching women in gymnastics speak out about abuse, and we are here to stop a similar culture in the sport of cheerleading.”
For years, the twins reported feeling shame but said they now believe they’re not the only ones who have been abused by McCartney, who has worked with Cheer Athletics at various gyms since 2005, according to the suit. Tuegel said on Tuesday that in just 24 hours since the lawsuit landed she’s received calls from parents sharing concerns about sexual abuse in cheerleading and about the coach.
The Cheer Athletics gym in Austin where McCartney works did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday.