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Review finds Utah gymnastics coach did not engage in abuse, harassment

Posted at 2:38 PM, Sep 14, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah head gymnastics coach Tom Farden did not engage in “any severe, pervasive or egregious acts of emotional, verbal or physical abuse or harassment," according to a review commissioned by the school.

Former gymnasts within the Red Rocks program and their parents alleged verbal and emotional abuse by Farden, along with physical intimidation.

The review conducted by law firm Husch Blackwell interviewed 45 people regarding Farden's behavior and found that while he didn't engage in abusive or harassing behavior, some athletes did have negative experiences while on the team.

"I was also part of the review. I was one of the 45 people," said Cristal Isa, a former University of Utah gymnast. "I was part of the team for a lot of these experiences, allegations and it was just a lot to process, and it still is."

The report found that Farden had made a derogatory comment to an athlete, telling her "that if she was not at the University she would be a 'nobody working at a gas station' in her hometown." The school found the comment to be personally degrading.

In response to questioning, Farden said he used the comment "to encourage and motivate her to work hard and take full advantage of the opportunity she had and to not waste the opportunity."

"He owned up to this comment which I think says a lot in itself, It is hard to own up to those words and acknowledge that you did say those words to someone, let alone your own gymnast," said Isa.

In response to the report, the school's athletics department will work with Farden on properly communicating with athletes in his program. The school will also support the role of a Student-Athlete Advocate, communicate better with parents and require athletics department officials to regularly attend gymnastics practices.

"I met with Coach Farden this week to express my disappointment and to share with him my expectations moving forward. Both Chief Operating Officer/Deputy Director of Athletics Charmelle Green and I will be even more vigilant in monitoring his conduct and his coaching methods, and he will be held to a higher standard moving forward," said Utah Athletics Director Mark Harlan.

The report found that Farden had made a derogatory comment to an athlete, telling her "that if she was not at the University she would be a 'nobody working at a gas station' in her hometown." The school found the comment to be personally degrading.

In response to questioning, Farden said he used the comment "to encourage and motivate her to work hard and take full advantage of the opportunity she had and to not waste the opportunity."

Other instances claimed Farden yelled at a team member who said they were injured, or pressured an injured athlete to return to competition before they were ready.

"As you can read in the report, there were a handful of instances in which Coach Farden should have demonstrated greater compassion and self-control, and better professionalism," said Harlan.

Four athletes said the coach "threw a stopwatch because he was frustrated that a student-athlete climbing the rope was not meeting the expectation related to timing to complete the rope climb." Two other students said a clipboard was thrown at the same athlete. Farden denied throwing a stopwatch, clipboard or any other object.

According to the report, many of the athletes interviewed "described the coaching staff as supportive" and treated them "like family and genuinely caring about them as people."

"I don't think I've ever met someone that loves gymnastics the way that he does, I think that he's a little bit of a perfectionist in his ways," said Sydney Soloski, a former University of Utah gymnast.

Soloski was a member of the Red Rocks for five seasons, graduating in 2022.

"I was really shocked at first to hear about some of the allegations," said Soloski. "I was really relieved and happy that the university chose to go through with the investigations and really take the matter seriously because I do feel like, you know, everyone's story does deserve to be told."

However, others said the program had a “win at all costs” culture. The report added that “'on occasion,' Coach Farden can 'erupt,' act 'irrationally,' and be 'explosive,' and at times his passion and intensity can ‘come off scary.’”

"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," said Farden in a statement. "I take to heart every lesson I have learned through this process, and I am fully committed to improving our student-athlete experience."

Accusations by some athletes that said Farden paid more attention to some over others were not verified by the law firm.

Farden has been with the Utes since 2011, and began serving as the team's co-head coach in 2016 before becoming the solo head coach in 2020.