Kara Eaker announces departure from the University of Utah, alleging verbal and emotional abuse during collegiate career
A U.S. Olympic alternate at the Tokyo Olympics, Eaker has retired from the sport of gymnastics
Alleging verbal and emotional abuse from an unnamed male coach and lack of support from the administration at the University of Utah, Kara Eaker announced Friday on Instagram that she has retired from Utah’s nationally renowned women’s gymnastics team and the sport of gymnastics as a whole, and withdrawn as a student from the Salt Lake City-based university.
“I accepted an athletic scholarship to the University of Utah because I truly believed the school was a place where I could contribute to the community, be a strong asset to the gymnastics team, and be free to develop myself and future career,” Eaker wrote in a post. “For two years, while training with the Utah Gymnastics Team, I was a victim of verbal and emotional abuse. As a result, my physical, mental, and emotional health has rapidly declined.
“I had been seeing a university athletics psychologist for a year and a half and I’m now seeing a new provider twice a week because of suicidal and self-harm ideation and being unable to care for myself properly. I have recently been diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, anxiety induced insomnia, and I suffer from panic attack, PTSD and night terrors.
Eaker continued, “During my recruiting process, I was promised a ‘family’ within this program and a ‘sisterhood’ with my teammates, who would accept me, care for me, and support me. But instead, after I entered as a freshman, I was heartbroken to find the opposite in that I was training in an unhealthy, unsafe, and toxic environment. I have now reached a turning point and I’m speaking out for all the women who can’t because they are mentally debilitated and paralyzed by fear.”
The Deseret News reached out to the administration of the University of Utah and Utah’s athletics department for comment. A spokesperson for the athletics department acknowledged “receipt of the inquiry,” adding, “at such point if there is something I can share with you I will get in touch.”
An alternate on the 2021 U.S. Olympic team that won the the silver medal in Tokyo and a two-time world champion gymnast herself — she was part of the U.S. gold-medal winning teams at the 2018 and 2019 world championships — Eaker alleged that she experienced abuse at Utah in both public and private.
“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 condescending, sarcastic and manipulative tactics,” she wrote.
“... I was personally attacked, humiliated, degraded and yelled at to the point of tears in front of the whole team. Instead of receiving positive and encouraging critiques to improve my skills, I was scared to death by the loud and angry outbursts from the coach,” Eaker continued. “When a male coach suddenly erupts with anger and physically slams down mats and gets up in an athlete’s face as a tactic to intimidate them, it’s impossible to have the confidence to speak up for yourself.”
Eaker alleges that when she went to the administration at the University of Utah to report the “emotional abuse and verbal attacks, as well as request support” she was “completely dismissed.”
“One administrator denied there was any abuse and said, ‘You two are like oil and water, you just don’t get along,’ To say I was shocked would be an understatement and this is a prime example of gaslighting. So therein lies the problem — the surrounding people and system are complicit.” Eaker wrote.
Eaker did not name any coach in her post. Utah head coach Tom Farden was the subject of a recent months-long investigation by the Kansas City-based law firm Husch Blackwell that concluded last month, an investigation that was made public by the Deseret News. Multiple former Utah gymnasts came forward — anonymously — to allege abuse.
The review 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.” The review also said that Farden’s behavior has improved over the last couple of years, following an investigation conducted by the University of Utah itself.
The Husch Blackwell investigation did find 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,” the report said.
In her social media post, Eaker expressed a lack of satisfaction with the review.
“Regarding the previous investigation done by Husch Blackwell, it is incomplete at best, and I disagree with their findings,” she wrote. “I don’t believe it has credibility, because the report omits crucial evidence and information and the few descriptions used are inaccurate.”
A source close to Eaker told the Deseret News, “She has gone through enough. So have the others.”
Eaker’s social media post was met with strong support from the greater NCAA women’s gymnastics community, with many of the sports more notable competitors — past and present — expressing their support and solidarity for Eaker.
Included in that group were former Utah gymnasts Lucy Stanhope, Samantha Partyka Faley, Jillian Hoffman, Hunter Dula and Kim Tessen; Alabama’s Luisa Blanco; Florida’s Leanne Wong — Eaker’s former club teammate at GAGE gymnastics — and Morgan Hurd; LSU’s Aleah Finnegan and Olivia Dunne; Oklahoma’s Jordan Bowers; former Sooner great Maggie Nichols; and UCLA’s Emma Malabuyo, to name a few.
Eaker was a rising junior at Utah and finishes her collegiate career as a two-time All-American on balance beam. She is one of only nine Utah gymnasts to ever score a perfect 10, which she did twice. In her two seasons at Utah, Eaker also hit 23 of 24 routines competed.