Investigation reveals hazing in UK cheerleading program


UK’s cheerleading team making a pyramid during ESPN College GameDay at Rupp Arena on January 26, 2019, in Lexington, Kentucky. No. 8 Kentucky men’s basketball takes on No. 9 Kansas at 6:00 PM. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Kernel News Staff

A university-conducted investigation found “hazing activities, alcohol use, and public nudity by some members” during off-campus trips and activities, President Capilouto announced.

The investigation found no evidence of sexual assault or sexual misconduct during these trips, according to a media advisory release from UK PR.

An email from Capilouto said that the activities may have been persisting for years.

“Most significantly, the coaches and the advisor who are responsible for these students and who attended these events — knew or reasonably should have known about inappropriate behavior,” wrote Capilouto.

The summary of the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity’s investigation said that multiple allegations made by reporting party were not corroborated by interviews with team members.

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.”

The report released by UK said that after learning of the incidents, the university implemented temporary measures, including limiting contact of the coaching staff and advisor with the team and not permitting coaches to travel with the team.

Capilouto announced six changes to the program, including dismissal of the entire coaching staff and the transfer of the cheer program’s administration to the athletic department.

Head coach Jomo Thompson was hired in 2002. Under his tenure, the Cats have won 12 of their national titles, the latest in 2019.

The investigative summary says that Thompson 

  • knew or should have known about hazing activities involving the male cheerleaders where they were instructed to wear a certain set of clothing excluding underwear and were instructed to remove item of clothing if they could not recite the words to an explicit chant

  • Knew or should have known of cheerleaders participating in basket tosses while partially nude while at the team retreat ( a university sponsored event on university property)

  • Knew or should have known of team members being nude while on boats (owned by private parties) while at the team retreat

The findings concluded that while Thompson knew or should have known about the incidents, there was insufficient evidence that he knew about the hazing ritual at UCA camp or the activity on the boat. Sufficient evidence of Thompson not intervening to stop the basket tosses led to the conclusion that Thompson “failed to exercise a reasonable degree of control over members of your team and coaching staff to prevent the formation of a hostile environment on the basis of sex.”

T. Lynn Williamson, advisor to the cheerleading program, retired in May 2020 after learning of the investigation, according to the media release. Williamson served as advisor to the cheerleading team for over 40 years; the program earned all 24 of the its national titles after he took the position in 1978.

The IEEO report said that Williamson observed “team members willingly engage in topless basket-tosses while at the retreat” in 2017 and 2018, and left without intervening or reporting what he observed.

The Office of Institutional Equity concluded he was not obligated to report as a mandatory reporter.

Three assistant coaches were dismissed after the investigation. Two of those coaches and Williamson are currently being investigated for potential finanical conflicts of interest.

The university released the reports from its investigation on a dedicated webpage.

This is a breaking story. The Kernel will update as more information becomes available.