Utah gymnastics under outside review after emotional abuse allegations

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The University of Utah has engaged an outside agency to review its nationally acclaimed gymnastics program after former gymnasts and parents allege head coach Tom Farden verbally and emotionally abused and physically intimidated members of the team.

The university has turned to the Kansas City-based law firm Husch Blackwell to conduct the review, and several athletes, their parents and Utah gymnastics staffers — current and former — have been interviewed as part of the investigation, the Deseret News has learned. The firm specializes in issues facing colleges and universities, including conducting independent investigations and culture and climate reviews of sport programs.

Gymnasts and parents reported the alleged abuse to university administrators and campus victim advocates. The former gymnasts are not alleging sexual abuse of any kind, but maintain that Farden verbally and emotionally demeaned them.

According to five former Red Rocks — as Utah team members are called — mothers of four gymnasts and two former staff members who worked with Farden during his 23-year collegiate coaching career, all of whom spoke with the Deseret News on the condition their names not be used, Farden’s alleged behaviors as a head coach include:

  • Verbal degradation and public shaming, wherein Farden would single out and demean gymnasts, both in practices and meets, demoralizing athletes and causing feelings of worthlessness.
  • Creating an environment where gymnasts, including those under age 18, were isolated from family and pressured to refrain from any communication outside the program.
  • Lack of concern or interest in gymnasts’ physical and emotional well-being, be it after serious injuries, illness or mental and emotional issues.
  • Creating an environment that rewards and encourages gymnasts to report on their teammates’ lives inside and outside the sport.
  • Physical intimidation, including throwing objects in the gym and forcefully handling equipment, making some gymnasts feel generally unsafe.

Though she competed at a high level, receiving All-Pac-12 and All-America honors, one former Red Rock said Farden told her she was a failure, lazy, a waste and that she didn’t bring value to the team.

“You knew, no matter what you had done, Tom would take it and blow it up and it would be your fault because you’re flawed as a person, not because you made one little mistake or (were) having a hard day,” she said.

Farden, she said, focused only on winning, no matter how many toes he had to step on. “Throughout my time as a gymnast there, all I felt like was a thing, a business asset,” she said. “If you’re doing stuff that doesn’t look good for this business that he’s running, then he thinks you’re irrelevant.”

Citing the ongoing review, university officials declined to answer questions or provide details about the allegations but did issue a statement.

“The well-being and safety of our student-athletes are of the utmost importance to the university and the athletics department, and we are committed to our student-athletes feeling respected, supported and safe. When issues are brought to our attention, it is our practice to conduct a thorough review to ensure that our practices and policies are being followed. I can confirm that an outside independent review of our gymnastics program has been underway,” said Christopher Nelson, chief university relations officer.


The Deseret News also interviewed a number of former gymnasts, including Sydney Soloski and Alexia Burch and others who asked that their names not be used as well as now-retired longtime coaches Greg and Megan Marsden, who defended Farden and praised his coaching style. The Deseret News also sought through the university athletics department to interview current team members but was told they wouldn’t be made available because of the ongoing review.

Administrators said the report from the investigation would be shared publicly after the university receives it.

Farden joined the Red Rocks as an assistant coach ahead of the 2011 season. In 2016, he and Megan Marsden were named co-head coaches, following the retirement of Greg Marsden. Farden became the sole head coach in 2020 after Megan Marsden retired.

The Marsdens say the allegations leveled at Farden “don’t make any sense” and in no way reflect who he is as a coach or a person. They said they never saw him demean, embarrass or make gymnasts miserable during their time together.



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