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University of Utah releases results of review of Gymnastics program

The University of Utah has released the results of an outside review of its gymnastics program that was initiated after receiving reports of concerning behavior from head coach Tom Farden. This review, conducted by law firm Husch Blackwell, derived from concerns that came from within the program to the University’s Student-Athlete Advocate, primarily centered around reports of emotional and verbal abuse.

This comprehensive process was undertaken to ensure that Utah Athletics continues to foster a culture in which student-athletes can report concerns with confidence and trust, to ensure their safety and their ability to thrive, in alignment with all aspects of the department’s Student-Athlete Health, Safety and Well-Being program.

The report, compiled from 45 interviews, finds that while Farden’s actions caused some student-athletes to feel “increased fear of failure” and pressure to retain athletics scholarships, he did not engage in “any severe, pervasive or egregious” acts of emotional, verbal or physical abuse or harassment as defined by the SafeSport Code and NCAA regulations. The report ultimately found that while Coach Farden’s behavior did not meet the definitions outlined above, there were student-athletes who had negative experiences while with the university’s gymnastics program.

The full independent review from September 2023 and a November 2023 supplement can be read here.

In response to the report, the Department of Athletics will implement Husch Blackwell’s five recommendations:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 FERPA and HIPAA.
  4. 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.
  5. Assigning Athletics Department leaders to attend more gymnastics practices and conduct regular, documented meetings with Women’s Gymnastics.

Statement from Utah Athletics Director Mark Harlan

“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. 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.

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. 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.

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.

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. 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.”

Statement from Tom Farden

I care deeply about the health, safety and well-being of every student whom I am entrusted to coach, to mentor and to support as head coach of the Utah gymnastics program. With 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.

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. I take to heart every lesson I have learned through this process, and I am fully committed to improving our studentathlete experience.

I’d like to express my gratitude for the trust and support of Mark Harlan and Charmelle Green, as well those who have expressed their support for me throughout this entire process. I also embrace and respect 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.

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 scope of Husch Blackwell’s interviews included current and former student-athletes, parents, staff and coaches. An appendix with the correspondence that first led to an internal review of Farden’s behavior is included in the report.