Oct 1, 2020 - Economy

Bain Capital's cheerleading investment gets ugly

Illustration of a pair of pompoms with a shadow of a man cast over them. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

When Bain Capital bought Varsity Brands in 2018, it snapped up most of the U.S. cheerleading industry.

Why it matters: Varsity Brands owns nearly all aspects of the cheer ecosystem. It even pays cheer's regulators — the people who are accused of shirking their duty of protecting young cheerleaders from sexual predators.

Driving the news: Investigations by USA Today last month revealed the regulators’ lax policies for preventing child abuse.

  • The industry’s governing bodies — which were founded by Varsity Brands and whose directors are paid by Varsity — are named in a suit against Jerry Harris, a celebrity cheerleader and a star of the hit Netflix show "Cheer."
  • In a statement, a Varsity Brands spokesperson said they "believe strongly that cheerleading has become safer and stronger" because Varsity founded the two oversight commissions.
  • Harris was arrested on child pornography charges last month. The mother of two alleged victims told USA Today she reported the misconduct to one of the industry's regulator, to no avail.

Between the lines: The overseers say they maintain lists of sexual predators who have been suspended or banned from the industry.

  • USA Today found 180 cheer-adjacent people who have been charged with sexual misconduct with minors who weren't banned from the industry (or on the lists) — just by googling and sifting through public records.
  • Even after USA Today's findings, the individuals weren't banned.

The big picture: Allegations about this lack of oversight in cheerleading aren't new.

What they're saying: Varsity Brands "seems to be oriented around maintaining market power, not stopping sexual predators from working in cheerleading," Matt Stoller wrote in his monopolies newsletter Big last week.

For the record: Bain, which claims to target "lasting impact through responsible business," referred Axios to the Varsity spokesperson, who issued a statement saying that they and Bain were "heartbroken and appalled to learn of the disturbing misconduct." The company says it is "committed to providing the safest environment possible."

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said Varsity Brands owns the entire cheer industry. It has been updated to reflect that it owns most of the cheer industry.

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