Utah Gymnast Kara Eaker Announces Retirement Citing Emotional Abuse
Oct 20, 2023, 6:36 PM
(Photo Cred: Kristen Murphy, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY – Former Utah Ute and Red Rocks gymnast Kara Eaker announced her retirement from gymnastics and withdrawal from the University of Utah on Friday.
Eaker claimed to be the victim of “verbal and emotional abuse” while training with the Utah Gymnastics Team.
View this post on Instagram
Eaker has been with Utah for three years and has had a very successful career despite only being 20 years old.
She was a 2020 U.S. Olympic Team alternate, a four-year member of the U.S. National Team, and a two-time World Champion.
Eaker referenced the Husch Blackwell investigation into alleged emotional and verbal abuse by Women’s Gymnastics head coach Tom Farden in her statement.
The investigation concluded that Farden did not engage in any severe emotional, verbal, or physical abuse. Eaker called the investigation ‘incomplete’.
Kara Eaker Social Media Statement
The entire statement from Eaker’s Instagram can be found below.
Today I’m announcing my retirement from the University of Utah gymnastics team, the sport of gymnastics, and my withdrawal as a student at the University of Utah. 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.
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 secing 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 attacks, PTSD, and night terrors.
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 of the women who can’t because they are mentally debilitated and paralyzed by fear. I, too, find myself frozen in moments when fear takes over. But I can no longer stand by while perpetrators are still allowed in sports and are causing young girls and women to suffer.
I’ve learned that verbal and emotional abuse is difficult to identify, especially when they are covert and passive-aggressive. 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.
The cruelty was compounded because I thought I’d be safe, both mentally and physically, at the University of Utah, but instead 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, “What the h*** is wrong with you!” “What the f*** are you doing!” “You better get your s*** together!” and “Pull your head out of your a**!”
When I spoke up for myself and said, “I can’t work like this, I don’t do well when you yell at me,” I was immediately shut down with the false defense that I had only been yelled at once in two years. Though it wasn’t true, he would force me to agree, asking “isn’t that fair?” There was no other answer than yes. I was told a number of times that I didn’t care about the team, and I didn’t try hard enough to be accepted by my peers.
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. The words are so intense and hurtful that it feels like a knife that’s stabbed so deep in my body that there’s no way to pull it out.
Other women have cried out for help and suffered horribly from this kind abuse, even died by suicide, and yet in sports, it is still accepted for a coach to manipulate, bully, and berate an athlete for being late to practice, taking extra steps on drills or dismounts, or being the cause of losing a meet. Where is the autonomy to discuss issues respectfully? Where is the appropriate correction for mistakes, or compassion for a student-athlete going through difficulty? Even a text message from the coach caused great fear. His name on the lock screen of my phone indicating a text, caused a panic attack.
In reflecting on this matter, the athletic department and University also failed me. I made appointments with athletic department personnel at the University of Utah to report the emotional abuse and verbal attacks, as well as request support, but I 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.
Regarding the previous investigation done by Husch Blackwell, it is incomplete at best, and I disagree with their findings. I don’t believe it has credibility, because the report omits crucial evidence and information and the few descriptions used are inaccurate.
In my gymnastics career, I have achieved a lot. I trained relentlessly and I represented the United States of America for four years and competed in many international competitions. I’m a 2x gold medalist at the Pan American Games; I’m a 2x gold medalist and beam finalist at the World Championships; and I’m an Olympic alternate for the 2020 Olympic Team. I am determined, hard-working, and extremely disciplined in my training.
As a gymnast at Utah scoring 9.95s and 10s, I’ve been complimented on my talent, artistry, and stunning performances. I’m proud to be one of the best gymnasts in the world. I am not weak, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
I believe in the power of truth and the need for safety and I want to be part of the solution. 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 voices, because together we can make a difference. I hope my voice will help you to recognize the early warning signs of abuse in order to get help and report it. There is strength in numbers as more of us come forward.
So I encourage you, speak out and stand up for what you believe is right. Stand with me as we make a difference to stop the abuse and the suffering. I am here to support you because I care about everyone. You are not alone.
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Chandler Holt is a co-host for the Jazz Notes podcast and a Digital Sports Producer for KSLSports.com, specializing in all things basketball and football. Follow Chandler on Twitter @ChandlerHoltKSL or on Threads @chandlerho1t.
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