Review: Utah gymnastics coach did not engage in 'severe, pervasive' abuse

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SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah gymnastics coach Tom Farden did not engage in "any severe, pervasive or egregious acts" toward his student-athletes, according to an outside review conducted following allegations from former gymnasts.

The report, which was released publicly Thursday, was conducted after several former gymnasts and parents alleged emotional abuse from Farden that was reported on by the Deseret News. The alleged abuse was reported to university administrators and campus victim advocates before the campus hired Kansas City-based law firm Husch Blackwell to investigate the numerous allegations.

In total, Husch Blackwell investigators interviewed 45 individuals, including all 12 gymnasts on the 2022-23 team, seven former athletes, five parents of student-athletes, six members of the current coaching staff, 11 athletic department staff members, and four former staff members.

Husch Blackwell, in a summary of its findings, said Farden "did not engage in any acts of physical abuse, emotional abuse or harassment as defined by SafeSport Code" and NCAA regulations. Student-athletes did experience "negative" instances, but the findings showed that they were isolated instances that "could not be independently corroborated."

In several varying instances, what was alleged by former student-athletes was denied by Farden and there wasn't enough "sufficient evidence" to say he violated any policies, the report said, though had they been corroborated, it would have "likely resulted in a finding that they violated" the policies.

Still, the university found a need to put checks in place to ensure gymnasts are in an environment where they can feel physically and emotionally safe.

"While the findings of the independent review by Husch Blackwell concluded that coach Farden's actions were not 'severe, pervasive or egregious' by the objective standards of the SafeSport or NCAA policies, we still consider the experiences reported by members of the program over recent years with great care, compassion and sensitivity," Utah athletics director Mark Harlan said in a statement.

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

Harlan said he met with Farden "to express my disappointment and to share with him my expectations moving forward," which includes a closer monitoring system of his program.

"I remain confident in coach Farden's ability to continue to lead our gymnastics program and to maintain an environment that helps our student-athletes reach their greatest athletic potential while supporting their health, safety and well-being," he added. 'The department of athletics will continue to support our gymnastics program, including our student-athletes and coaches, in their efforts to maintain an elite program that consistently pursues excellence."

As a result of the investigation into Farden and the gymnastics program, the University of Utah said it will implement five recommendations from Husch Blackwell, which are as follows:

  • Creating and managing a performance improvement plan for coach Farden — including training in appropriate communication with student-athletes, leadership and emotional intelligence for interactions with student-athletes — and creating a healthy team culture.
  • Continuing to support the role of the student-athlete advocate, including regular monitoring of team practices and competitions, and educating student-athletes about the advocate's role so that she can be an independent resource to address student-athletes' concerns.
  • Working to communicate and involve parents in the gymnastics program while still adhering to Athletics' expectations for student-athletes to develop independence and complying with (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
  • Ensuring that all prospective and enrolled student-athletes understand the terms of their athletics scholarships. Considering whether to replace the gymnastics scholarship formula, which guarantees one year of financial support to annual renewals.
  • Assigning athletics department leaders to attend more gymnastics practices and conduct regular, documented meetings with women's gymnastics.

"I want to thank all of our current and former student-athletes, coaches and staff members who participated in the reviews, and especially the young women who first came forward with concerns," Harlan said. "We must continue to foster a culture in Utah athletics in which student-athletes have the confidence, the ability and the systems to report concerns.

"The well-being of student-athletes is always top priority for the University of Utah Athletics Department. We treat any allegations of inappropriate behavior or abuse within our athletics programs with the utmost care and sensitivity. Student-athletes and their parents entrust their futures to us — not only their athletic training and education, but also their physical and mental health and well-being."

In a statement, Farden said he cares "deeply" for the safety and well-being of the gymnasts he oversees, and understands that "privilege comes great responsibility, and 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," Farden said.

"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," he continued. "I take to heart every lesson I have learned through this process, and I am fully committed to improving our student-athlete experience."

Farden said he is appreciative of those who have offered their support during the investigation, but said he respects the "courage of those who expressed negative experiences from their interactions with me."

"Their input has caused me to humbly reflect and hold myself accountable in order to improve," Farden said. "I understand the magnitude of the responsibility of leading this historic Red Rocks program, and the high standard of expectations that come with it. I believe in open communication, mutual respect, and teamwork, and will move forward confidently in my commitment to being better for every person whom I'm entrusted to lead as head coach of the Red Rocks."

The full version of the report can be viewed here or below.

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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer covering University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s and women's basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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