Tom Farden out as Utah gymnastics coach after allegations of "verbal and emotional abuse"

Tom Farden out as Utah gymnastics coach after allegations of "verbal and emotional abuse"
Grace Fisher
Grace Fisher

The University of Utah have announced that they and Head Gymnastics Coach Tom Farden have "mutually agreed to part ways,"  just over a month after former Utah gymnasts Kara Eaker and Kim Tessen publicly accused the coach of "verbal and emotional abuse." He has denied the allegations.

The statement released by the university did not directly refer to the gymnasts' statements. Director of Athletics Mark Harlan simply said, "The past several months have been an extremely challenging time for our gymnastics program."

"Changes like this are never easy, and only come after extensive analysis and discussion. In this case, the decision provides necessary clarity and stability for our student-athletes and prevents further distraction from their upcoming season.

"I want to acknowledge the tremendous contributions Tom has made both as an assistant and head coach for the Red Rocks, and the significant accomplishments of the program in which he has played a key role."

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Farden achieved a record of 182-48-1 during his 8 seasons as assistant coach or head coach at Utah. He has been sole head coach since 2020.

Earlier this fall Farden and the culture of the team were subject to investigation by outside law firm Husch Blackwell. The investigation, which Eaker called "incomplete at best," largely cleared him; it was determined that Farden had used a derogatory comment to at least one student and "more likely than not threw a stopwatch and cellular telephone in frustration in the presence of student-athletes," but this was "not repeated or severe."

The university chose not to discipline Farden after a majority of current members of the team defended him and Husch Blackwell determined that he "did not engage in any severe, pervasive, or egregious acts of emotional or verbal abuse of student-athletes...[or]any acts of emotional abuse, physical abuse, or harassment as defined by SafeSport code."

Former Utah gymnast Kara Eaker, twice a world gold medallist and a U.S. alternate for the Tokyo Olympics, called the investigation "incomplete at best" in an Instagram post announcing her retirement from both the university team and all gymnastics.

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"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," said the 21-year-old, who said she now manages "suicidal and self-harm ideation...severe anxiety and depression, anxiety induced insomina...panic attacks, PTSD, and night terrors."

"I was personally attacked, humiliated, degraded, and yelled at to the point of tears in front of the whole team," said Eaker, describing "loud and angry outbursts from the coach, 'What the hell is wrong with you!' 'What the f*ck are you doing!' 'You better get your sh*t together!'"

"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 also described the university's lack of response to her reports: "One administrator denied there was any abuse and said, 'You two are like oil and water, you just don't get along."

Eaker explained that she is coming forward to "help girls and women find their voices."

"I want to stop the cycle of abuse and the men who threaten girls and women in all sports."

Fellow former Utah gymnast Kim Tessen separately wrote of an "abusive and toxic environment."

Farden has denied the allegations and is reportedly considering legal action against Tessen and Eaker.

Carly Dockendorf will continue as interim coach for the 2024 season.

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