Gymnast Kara Eaker announces retirement from University of Utah women’s gymnastics team and withdrawal as a student, citing verbal and emotional abuse from a coach and lack of support from administration.
“For two years, while training with the Utah Gymnastics team, I experienced verbal and emotional abuse,” Eaker wrote in a post. “As a result, my physical, mental, and emotional health rapidly declined. I had been seeing a university athletics psychologist for a year and a half, and I now have a new provider twice a week due to suicidal and self-harm ideation and inadequate self-care. I have recently been diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, anxiety-induced insomnia, and I suffer from panic attacks, PTSD, and night terrors….
“I have now reached a turning point, and I am speaking out for all the women who are mentally debilitated and paralyzed by fear.”
Eaker, a 20-year-old elite American gymnast, was part of the U.S. gold-medal teams at the 2018 and 2019 world championships. She was named an alternate for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and was a member of Utah’s teams that finished third at the NCAA championships in 2022 and 2023. Utah is one of the leading programs in women’s college gymnastics.
USA TODAY Sports has reached out to the University of Utah for comment.
“I was promised a ‘family’ within this program and a ‘sisterhood’ with my teammates, who would accept, care for, and support me,” Eaker wrote. “But instead, as a freshman, I was heartbroken to find the opposite, as I was training in an unhealthy, unsafe, and toxic environment.”
She alleged “loud and angry outbursts” that involved cursing from a coach.
Eaker said the abuse “often happened in individual coach-athlete meetings. I would be isolated in an office with an overpowering coach, door closed, sitting quietly, hardly able to speak because of the condescending, sarcastic, and manipulative tactics.”
When Eaker reported her allegations to university officials, she wrote, “One administrator denied any abuse and said, ‘You two are like oil and water, you just don’t get along.’ I was shocked and this is a prime example of gaslighting. So, the problem lies with the surrounding people and system being complicit.”
Eaker does not name any coach in her post. Tom Farden has been coaching at Utah since 2011, serving as co-head coach from 2016-2019 and sole head coach from 2020. A recent investigation into Farden by Husch Blackwell concluded that Farden “did not engage in any severe, pervasive, or egregious acts of emotional or verbal abuse of student-athletes” and “did not engage in any acts of physical abuse, emotional abuse, or harassment as defined by SafeSport Code.”
However, the investigation found that Farden “made a derogatory comment to a student-athlete that if she was not at the University she would be a ‘nobody working at a gas station’ in her hometown” and “a few student-athletes alleged that Coach Farden made comments to student-athletes that, if corroborated, would have likely resulted in a finding that they violated the Athletics’ Well Being Policy’s prohibition on degrading language. The comments as alleged were isolated occurrences that could not be independently corroborated and were denied by Coach Farden.”
In her Instagram post, Eaker called the investigation “incomplete at best, and I disagree with their findings. I don’t believe it has credibility because the report omits crucial evidence and information, and the few descriptions used are inaccurate.”
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