MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis-based youth cheerleading company is at the center of a federal lawsuit alleging a pattern of abuse across the country, including against young victims in Tennessee.
Varsity Spirit moved into a new building in Downtown Memphis over the summer- a facility that the victims’ lawyers said was built on the backs of sex abuse victims.
“This is the age-old adage of putting profit over people,” Bakari Sellers, one of four attorneys for the victims, said. “They allowed young people to be abused simply so they could do things like build a building in Downtown Memphis.”
According to the 71-page lawsuit, Varsity Spirit, its parent companies, governing body and an affiliated gym aimed to portray the sport and culture as child-friendly while enabling child abusers. A similar suit was filed earlier this month in South Carolina.
The lawsuit states Dominick Frizzell, who is described as a “cheerlebrity,” was an athlete and later coach at Premier Athletics, a Knoxville cheerleading gym affiliated with Varsity. The complaint alleges he sexually abused at least two teenage boys during his time there, including sharing pornographic pictures and videos and participating in sex acts.
The victims’ lawyers said there are likely more victims than just the two identified as John Doe One and Two in the lawsuit.
“I have seen more masturbation videos and Snapchats, disgusting, predatory content than anybody should have to go through, and these young boys and their families will be forever altered,” Sellers said.
The suit claims Premier Athletics continued to let Frizzell use their gym and work as a coach even after learning of the allegations against him.
In a statement, Premier’s attorneys denied the claims against the gym, stating the allegations against Frizzell took place before the current owners took over. When Premier received a complaint in June, the statement said, it suspended Frizzell and turned over the information to law enforcement, who could not substantiate it.
According to the statement, Premier later fired Frizzell and information about another complaint received earlier this month was also turned over to law enforcement.
Alexandra Benevento, another attorney for the victims, said Frizzell had his membership to the US All-Star Federation, the governing body for dance and cheer, revoked after the reports. Beyond that, she believes little action was taken.
“I don’t know where it went from there. I believe, and we would contend that obstruction of the reporting process, that convoluted process, is by design,” she said. “No one knows where that report went, but what I can tell you is this: Nick Frizzell was still in that gym as recently as a week and a half ago.”
Frizzell was also a cheerleader for the University of Tennessee. According to a spokesman, he was suspended from the cheer team earlier this month and dismissed Tuesday.
The lawsuit names 11 defendants, including Frizzell, Premier Athletics, manager Susan Traylor, Varsity Spirit, its parent companies, its governing bodies and founder Jeff Webb.
“We are filing this here in Memphis to bring this to their front doorstep,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville, another attorney for the victims, said. “The reason for our justice system is to hold people accountable, and we intend to do that here in the great state of Tennessee.”
A spokesperson for Varsity Spirit also denied any wrongdoing. Full statements from Varsity and Premier can be found below.
Varsity Spirit spokesperson’s statement:
First and foremost, our concern is for the survivors and their families. Children should be protected and safe at all times, and no child should ever be exposed to the kind of abhorrent behavior and abuse alleged in the complaint(s). Our life here at Spirit is cheer, and we want our sport to be safe for all athletes. We are outraged that predators took advantage of cheerleading programs to abuse innocent children. We reject any accusation that Varsity Spirit enabled such unthinkable behavior. We are committed to supporting survivors and their pursuit of justice against those individuals responsible. We will keep listening, learning, and championing safety and security to best protect children in this sport.
No reports of suspected misconduct were ever reported to Varsity, and there is no allegation in the complaint that anyone ever told Varsity about their concerns.
In 2022, when notice is first reported to have been provided to Premier Athletics, Varsity did not own the gym—nor does Varsity own Premier Athletics today. Varsity has not owned Premier Athletics or any other gym since August 2021.
Defendant Dominick Frizzell, the alleged perpetrator, was never an employee of Varsity.
Premier Athletics attorney’s statement:
We are extremely disappointed that Premier Athletics Knoxville West (“Premier Knoxville”) was inaccurately implicated in a press conference regarding a lawsuit that was filed in Memphis, Tennessee. The lawsuit contains many inaccuracies and false statements about Premier Knoxville and its employee, Susan Traylor, which need to be cleared up.
First, the company that owns Premier Knoxville did not own any gyms until August 6, 2021. All of the allegations in the Complaint prior to that date do not pertain to Premier Knoxville’s current ownership.
Second, on June 26, 2022, Susan Traylor of Premier Knoxville was told by an athlete that he had received photographs from a coach, Nick Frizzell, that were inappropriate. No copies or screenshots of the photographs were provided to substantiate this claim, and this was the first time Ms. Traylor or Premier Knoxville had received reports about this alleged misconduct. Premier Knoxville promptly suspended Mr. Frizzell and immediately reported the athlete’s claim to local law enforcement as well as the USASF. Local law enforcement did not substantiate the complaint, nor did USASF. Premier Knoxville terminated Mr. Frizzell’s employment.
Third, on September 18, 2022, the Knoxville West location was informed by an athlete that a different athlete, whom we believe to be John Doe 1, had a “physical relationship” with Mr. Frizzell. John Doe 1 never reported this to Premier Knoxville, nor did his mother or any of his representatives. Premier Knoxville immediately reported this new claim to local law enforcement and also filed a report with USASF that same day. After reporting the matter to law enforcement Premier Knoxville did not have any contact with the alleged victim or his family so as not to be falsely accused of interfering with law enforcement’s investigation.
All of these law enforcement and USASF filings are available through the Freedom of Information Act and we encourage media to request these documents.
One thing that is accurate in the lawsuit filed is the admission that John Doe 2 never told Premier Knoxville of his allegations. The majority of those allegations occurred from 2018 through 2021, prior to the current owner purchasing Premier Knoxville.
The health and safety of athletes that train at its facilities is extremely important to Premier Knoxville. Premier Knoxville has taken all of the appropriate and required steps based on the reports it received and it will continue to protect the health and safety of its athletes.
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