Utah gymnast Kara Eaker alleges emotional abuse, ‘incomplete’ investigation in surprise retirement announcement

The U. gymnast announced on Instagram she is leaving the Red Rocks and retiring from the sport, alleging the investigation into coach Tom Farden was “incomplete at best.”

University of Utah gymnast Kara Eaker has announced she is retiring from the sport, alleging she was a victim of “verbal and emotional abuse” at the U., and claiming an independent investigation into head coach Tom Farden earlier this year was incomplete.

Eaker, an Olympic alternate in 2020 and a two-time All-American on beam, wrote in an Instagram post that her “physical, mental and emotional health rapidly declined” as a result of her treatment as a Red Rock.

“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,” Eaker’s announcement read in part. “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.”

Eaker’s post did not mention Farden by name, but referenced “the coach” and a “male coach.” She also mentioned the investigation done by Husch Blackwell, a Kansas City-based law firm hired by the U. to investigate the allegations against Farden.

The U. asked investigators to look into Farden in June after multiple women met with a student-athlete advocate to report concerns about the coach’s treatment of them. The U. spent more than $150,000 on the investigation, which ultimately determined that while Farden made at least one “derogatory comment,” he did not abuse athletes by definition.

The investigation was “incomplete at best, and I disagree with their findings,” Eaker’s post states. “I don’t believe it has credibility, because the report omits crucial evidence and information and the few descriptions used are inaccurate.”

For its report, Husch Blackwell said it interviewed 12 student-athletes from the 2022-23 Utah gymnastics team, seven former student-athletes, five parents of student-athletes, six members of the current coaching staff, 11 athletics department staff members and administrators, and four former staff members.

Eaker’s post included allegations she said she believed constituted abuse:

“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,” Eaker wrote, adding she was yelled at “to the point of tears in front of the whole team.”

Eaker described “loud and angry outbursts” in which her coach allegedly cursed at her. In her post, Eaker wrote that she tried to tell her coach yelling was not effective in helping her improve and was met with “the false defense” that she’d only been yelled at once in two years, and was forced to agree that was “fair.”

“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 wrote.

Eaker alleged she was “completely dismissed” when she reported to athletics officials the abuse she allegedly suffered. She wrote that one administrator said she and the coach simply didn’t get along because they were like “oil and water.”

“To say I was shocked would be an understatement and this is a prime example of gaslighting,” Eaker wrote. “So therein lies the problem — the surrounding people and system are complicit.”

Many former gymnasts came to Farden’s defense when the allegations were first brought against him. They described him as a tough and demanding coach, but one who did not cross the line with them.

As a result of the investigation, U. officials said Farden would be placed on a performance improvement plan and would be more closely monitored.

In a statement he issued after the release of the investigation’s findings last month, Farden said:

“I take very seriously the concerns that were expressed about my behavior and my coaching methods. It has been painful to learn of the negative impacts that my words and actions have created, and I have thoroughly examined the accounts of every person who shared their experience through their participation in the program review.

“I have always placed a high priority on cultivating a positive and nurturing environment that allows our students to thrive not only as gymnasts but also as individuals, and I have learned of the areas that I must improve upon. I take to heart every lesson I have learned through this process, and I am fully committed to improving our student-athlete experience.”

Neither Eaker nor the U. immediately responded to a request for comment Friday evening.

Eaker was entering her junior season at Utah, where she was one of only nine gymnasts at the university to score perfect 10s on beam twice in her career. She has been a member of the U.S. national team five times.

Eaker wrote in her post that she believes she can make a difference for any other young women in sports who have experienced abuse.

“I believe in the power of truth and the need for safety and I want to be part of the solution,” Eaker wrote. “I want to stop the cycle of abuse and the men who threaten girls and women in all sports. And I want to help girls and women find their voice, because together we can make a difference.”

Editor’s note • This statement discusses suicidal ideation. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24-hour support.