Film and TV

Be Offensive! Be, Be Offensive! Some of the Biggest Controversies from Netflix's Cheer.

The hit reality series Cheer on Netflix enters its second season with more than a few controversies in its shadow.
The hit reality series Cheer on Netflix enters its second season with more than a few controversies in its shadow. courtesy Netflix
UPDATE, 3:40 p.m. Jan. 25: The original version of this story has been edited to include additional information about the lawsuit against Jason McCartney.

The Netflix reality show Cheer showed the world something that pretty much every small-town Texan with a kid in high school or college already knows. There's more drama going on in collegiate cheerleading squads than through the entire runs of Dynasty, Falcon Crest and Grey's Anatomy combined.

It's unavoidable. Impressionable young people with competitive drives are put under enormous pressure to work as a team while also trying to outperform each other to score that coveted starting spot on the squad. Add to that the drive to win a national cheerleading title in a sport that injures approximately 13 out of every 100 participants per year and you've got a dramatic situation on the scale of a Eugene O'Neill tragedy.

So it wasn't a surprise that the first season of the story of the Navarro College cheerleading squad in Corsicana became one of the biggest hits on Netflix and earned it a second season. It's even more impressive when you look back at the shows that the streaming network inexplicably canceled while they were still in their prime. But nothing is more impressive than the number of controversies that arose from its first, Emmy-winning season.
Jerry Harris' Arrest
The all-star "mat talker" became the series' first big breakout star. Harris' infectious energy and high-spirited pep talk swung the spotlight on him from the very beginning. The attention and chatter he created in the first season earned him the red carpet treatment, with guest appearances on shows Watch What Happens Live, The Ellen DeGeneres Show (which made him an Oscar correspondent) and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

But Harris' fame and name crashed hard in 2020 when the FBI arrested him on charges of sexual abuse and producing child pornography. A pair of twin brothers who were 14 years old at the time alleged in a lawsuit that Harris wrote sexually explicit text messages asking them to send him lascivious pictures of themselves. A judge ruled that Harris would stay behind bars while awaiting trial because of the risk he poses to the public. He is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago awaiting a trial scheduled to start in February, according to The New York Times.

Cheer's second season dealt with the arrest by giving Harris' accusers — identified as Charlie and Sam  — a chance to tell their story as part of an entire episode showing how the shocking news affected the rest of the team and the sport.

Coach Jason McCartney's Lawsuit
A second, almost identical lawsuit cropped up against another former cheerleading coach featured in the Netflix series.

Several former cheerleaders filed lawsuits against one-time Cheer Athletics of Plano coach Jason McCartney, including former family friend Carrie Methvin, twin sisters Hannah and Jessica Gerlacher and at least two other accusers in court documents. They accused the coach of sexually assaulting them while they were minors. Methvin's lawsuit claims McCartney had "unfettered access to young children over the course of the past two decades" through the athletic chain's other facilities in Frisco and Garland, but Jody Melton, co-owner of Cheer Athletics Plano, says Methvin was not a cheerleader at or coached by McCartney through Cheer Athletics at any time.

Cheer Athletics' media team said in January that McCartney left the company's Plano operation in 2015 for Austin, where he was later co-owner of that Cheer Athletics franchise. The Austin-based franchise company suspended him in July 2021 when the original lawsuit was filed, and his co-owner has since bought out McCartney's share of the company.

The Plano facility was depicted in Cheer's first season as part of the competitive path for cheerleader training and competitions.

La'Darius Marshall Calls Cheerleading a "Toxic" Culture
The latest season of Cheer just launched on Netflix but it didn't take long to produce drama that thankfully doesn't include any subsequent criminal charges.

Fan favorite La'Darius Marshall took to Instagram to announce his departure from the show and the sport because of what he called a "toxic" culture of competitive pressure and medical risk. He countered claims that he was a "bad apple" by calling out allegations of questionable behavior by some of the team's coaching staff. He claimed he witnessed coach Monica Aldama physically abusing participants and an assistant coach using drugs and sleeping with athletes.

"I saw it and I have the proof to prove it," Marshall said. "The worst thing you can say is that I snapped a little bit on people."

Aldama denied his claims in Parade following her appearance on Dancing with the Stars. She also said she was "really hurt over this because I've gone above and beyond for this kid."

The Mischaracterization of Gabi Butler's Parents
The cheerleading career of Gabi Butler has been more documented than most of the Navarro College team's thanks to Netflix and other cheerleading reality series on YouTube channels such as AwesomenessTV. The Netflix series, however, had to issue an apology to Butler's mother and father for portraying them as demanding helicopter parents.

Show director Greg Whiteley issued a formal apology to the couple during an interview on KCRW 89.9 FM, the National Public Radio affiliate for Santa Monica, California. Even though he characterized her parents as "crazy," he also admitted that he enjoyed their company in the time they spent together and that his portrayal of Butler's parents on Cheer was "a very cheap way to move a story forward.

"If you can find somebody to root against, that means it's a shortcut — almost invariably — to creating empathy for your protagonist, who you want your audience to root for," Whiteley said on the KCRW program The Business. "I think there's a better way. I think even villains become more interesting when you understand why they do what they do." 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.