What Is Really Going On With Jerry Harris From Cheer?

The following article includes allegations of abuse and sexual assault.

Jerry Harris was a fixture on Season 1 of the hit Netflix show "Cheer" a docuseries focused on the elite cheerleading team at Navarro College in Texas. The show premiered in 2020, and at the height of its popularity, Harris made appearances on "The Ellen Show," interviewed celebrities on the red carpet, and appeared with Oprah, per Time. Other cast members from the show received similar clout for their athletic talent and star quality. But Jerry Harris was particularly lauded for his positive attitude in the face of adversity and his encouraging "mat talk" toward his teammates.

However, in September 2020, USA Today released a story on Harris that detailed an FBI investigation into his online and in-person interactions with minors. Season 2 of "Cheer" addressed the news as it was able within its documentary-style chronological timeline and interviews, which started taping in early 2020. The producers focused on Jerry Harris' case in-depth in the show's fifth episode, titled "Jerry."

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One affected family has spoken out

In the USA Today article, which broke on September 14th, 2020, Siobhan Johnson, an FBI special agent told the outlet, "The FBI is conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity in the area." Twin 14-year-old brothers interviewed by the outlet also shared their stories of repeated inappropriate interactions with Harris. The family had filed a report with Varsity Brands, a major conglomerate in the cheerleading world, which in turn reported to police in Florida and Texas.

The brothers, Charlie and Sam, spoke with the news outlet in August 2020, and their mom Kristen shared that the FBI interviewed her sons together on August 28th and Charlie alone on September 11th, per USA Today.

Producers for the Netflix docuseries "Cheer" also procured interviews with Charlie and Sam for the fifth episode of season 2, where the brothers explained what cheerleading had meant to them during their first season at 13 years old. They also went into detail about how Jerry Harris' stardom in the cheer world — which predated the release of the docuseries "Cheer" — affected their interactions with then 19-year-old Harris.

The brothers told producers that they knew of Harris from cheerleading blogs he posted and that they idolized the team he was on at the time. Charlie shared, "It was me and Sam's dream team. We were in love with everything it was portrayed to be." 

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

His rising star motivated the family to speak out

In the episode titled "Jerry," Charlie told "Cheer" producers that Jerry Harris first made contact via his private Instagram, soliciting an inappropriate photo from Charlie, a minor. This progressed into months of sexually explicit messages from the 19-year-old. Charlie recalled, "I was kind of starstruck and I didn't want him to not like me or not be friends with me." 

Charlie also told producers — as well as interviewers at USA Today — that Harris asked him to meet in the bathroom when they were at the same cheer competition. The teen rebuffed Harris' advances but said that the star cornered him in a bathroom and pleaded that they have sex. 

Charlie told the producers of "Cheer," that he wanted to speak up about it but that he felt "ashamed." Though his brother Sam had also began receiving inappropriate messages from Harris, it wasn't until their mom Kristen looked at Charlie's phone that an outside party became involved. Kristen shared, "this was at the very height of Jerry's popularity ... he was getting more and more of these endorsement deals ... his star was really rising."

In May of 2020, Kristen reported Harris' behavior to his cheer gym and filed a report with the U.S. All Star Federation and Safe Sport. However, anonymous reporting did not appear to set any disciplinary action in motion, so she filed a report with the FBI in August, per USA Today.

His teammates had emotional reactions to the news

In 2020, Jerry Harris admitted to law enforcement that he had exchanged explicit messages with between 10 to 15 minors, and had sex with a 15-year-old at a cheer competition, per The New York Times.

Season 2 of "Cheer" began with an interview with the Navarro College cheer team's coach, Monica Aldama; she tells the interviewers that in the whirlwind of 2020, she experienced, "a lot of great opportunities and a lot of awful times."  

Aldama considers Jerry Harris' arrest a part of the shattering events of the previous year. When asked briefly about Harris, the coach replied, "I can't even wrap my head around how I should feel." 

In the episode titled "Jerry" the former cheerleader's teammates also offered their reactions to the shocking news story, originally dropped by USA Today and picked up by The New York Times and other major news outlets. About 10 minutes into the episode, the narrative addresses Harris' arrest in Naperville, Illinois, on September 15th, 2020. Fellow Navarro cheerleader Gabby told producers she got a call with the news; "Immediately my heart completely sank. I honestly thought I was living in a bad dream," (via TV Transcripts). 

La'Darius, a fan-favorite cheerleader, first heard about Harris' arrest via Twitter and reached out to Gabby. Another cheerleader, Maddy, said to production that the tight-knit team "all thought we knew every little piece of him, and we didn't."

USA Today's story on Jerry Harris had common players with another high-profile case

One of the journalists who broke Jerry Harris' story, Marisa Kwiatkowski, was at the Indiana Star in 2016 and helped expose Larry Nassar, the former Team USA gymnasts doctor whose abusive behavior was later chronicled in the Netflix documentary "Athlete A" (per Time). Kwiatkowski shared with Netflix producers that after Nassar's story came out, a source who told her to investigate the cheerleading world as well.

The attorney defending the twin brothers' in the case against Jerry Harris is Sarah Klein, who also has a vested interest in athlete safety. She was the first known victim of Larry Nassar, and told Netflix, "I became an advocate and a lawyer representing survivors of sexual abuse because I myself was abused at the hands of former Olympic gymnastics team doctor."

Kwiatkowski told "Cheer" producers that unfortunately, they found a disturbing pattern of the U.S. All Star Federation ignoring abuse allegations. "We found multiple examples of people who had been accused or even convicted of misconduct continuing to work in the sport." 

Her co-writer, Tricia L. Nadolny, added, "It's about organizations having really strong child protection policies, following those policies, as well as following the laws that are in place." The writers ultimately compiled a list which around 180 names on it, according to the journalists' interview with Netflix. The list has been shared by the USASF and USA Cheer, but Kwiatkowski noted that little has changed in terms of regulation since their report came out in 2020.

Jerrry Harris awaits trial in 2022

After Jerry Harris' arrest in 2020, his attorney asked for a modified version of house arrest, with the cooperation of four "custodians" to monitor Harris, per The New York Times. However, prosecutors argued against it, citing that Harris had a pattern of dangerous behavior. The judge considering the pre-trial release decided in favor of the prosecution, stating in court, "I also have found that the defendant lacks control."

The fifth episode of "Cheer" revealed that Harris' legal team refused to be interviewed on camera and that he had been in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago since his arrest in September of 2020. In February of 2022, Harris pleaded guilty to two of the seven counts against him, in a plea agreement that stated that the court "may recommend 50 years in prison," per The New York Times. The remaining charges include three counts of exploitation of minors and one count of enticement.

"Cheer" producers did, however, include a 2019 interview in the episode in which Harris reflected on his childhood and life trajectory. He said, "If I didn't cheer I would probably have fell to the dark side ... I would probably be upset at the world and I would be hurting others because I would be hurt myself."

His coach Monica Aldama was not in touch with Harris at the time she was interviewed for the season 2 episode "Jerry." However, she said she received a letter from Harris that shared his hopes for the future, which included becoming a motivational speaker. Aldama told producers that she has not written Harris back.