If there were a Daytona for the unscripted reality-show genre, Netflix would be the one to beat with shows like Too Hot to Handle and Selling Sunset that turned their talent into overnight celebrities. However, the stars of the series with the most spirit, Cheer, were already cheer-lebrities in their world. After the first season premiered in January 2020, the Navarro cheer-lebrities became household names to viewers outside of the sport, with nonstop television appearances on shows like The Ellen Show and even red-carpet interviews at the Oscars. Their newfound celebrity didn’t come without a few tumbles. Fan favorite Jerry Harris was arrested shortly after USA Today reported sexual-misconduct allegations with two minors in 2019. La’Darius Marshall quit the team after fighting with coach Monica Aldama and assistant coach Kailee Peppers, claiming his mental health suffered after being on the team. Season two of Cheer, which premiered January 12, addressed both controversies as the team prepared for the 2021 NCA College Nationals in Daytona Beach. Below, we recapped the tension off the mat that left the team, and viewers, in tears, fears, and cheers.
What happened with Jerry?
In September 2020, Jerry Harris was arrested for sexual misconduct. He was accused of sending sexually explicit messages on social media to two minors; one of which claimed that Harris cornered him in a bathroom at a cheer competition and tried to pressure him into oral sex. The investigation from the F.B.I. led to Harris’s arrest, where he was charged with one count of producing child pornography. In December 2020, he faced new charges leading to a seven-count indictment but pled not guilty to all seven counts. He was denied bail in October 2020 and remains held without bond in the Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center until his hearing on February 10.
How does the show address Jerry’s accusations?
Within five minutes of the first episode, the show plays news footage about Harris’s arrest. It then rewinds to earlier in the year as the team prepares for their Daytona competition, unknown to them what’s to come. It’s not until episode five that it dedicates itself to Harris, at which point the show fast-forwards to September 2020 when USA Today broke the news.
Cheer speaks directly with Harris’s victims, twin brothers Charlie and Sam (whose last names have been withheld because they are minors), also cheerleaders, and they share their accusations. Charlie describes how Harris allegedly contacted him through his private Instagram account in 2018 when he was 13. He had known Harris through his fame on the cheer team, Cheer Athletics Cheetahs, which Charlie explained was his and his brother’s dream cheer team. “I didn’t want him to not like me or not be friends with me,” Charlie says of their interactions. In 2019, while they were at the same cheer event, Charlie claims Harris pressured him into a bathroom, cornered him, and asked to have sex with him. Shortly after, Charlie confided in his brother what happened, and then Harris allegedly began harassing Sam, too. Both brothers feared telling their mother, Kristen, as they didn’t want her to report the incidents; they didn’t want to lose their cheer community and friends because of the accusations.
The show intercuts the difficult interviews with Harris’s career highlights, from winning the ACA 2019 competition to interviewing celebrities on red carpets. Charlie cites Harris’s interview with President Joe Biden as his push to come forward. In May 2020, the boys’ mother called Angela Rogers, the co-owner of the Cheer Athletics All-Star Gym (along with Brad Habermal, the Cheetahs coach featured in Cheer) where Harris trained, to tell her her concerns. She also filed two anonymous complaints to the United States All Star Federation, All Star Cheer’s governing body, and claims nothing happened as a result of the reporting. But it wasn’t until August 2020 that she filed reports with the FBI and spoke to USA Today. USASF posted an update on Harris after the news came out in September 2020, showing an “active action” timeline of the anonymous reporting. The transcript shows the organization directing Kristen to file reports with law enforcement but did not state what actions were done with Harris specifically.
How did the Navarro team react?
Gabi Butler, one of Harris’s best friends and teammates, breaks down in tears when talking about her friend. “My heart completely sank,” Butler cries in an episode. She calls Harris “family” and says she “can’t turn her back on him.” “We all thought we knew every little piece of him when we didn’t, and losing that person is a lot,” says teammate Maddy Brum. When the allegations surfaced, his teammates expressed guilt for not knowing what happened with Harris and that they couldn’t help him. Coach Monica Aldama says she was alerted during a dress rehearsal of Dancing With the Stars by an executive producer. She describes having a Navarro team meeting over Zoom that night: “It really felt like a funeral.” At that point, the show cuts to the victims’ attorney, who says they have “no sympathy for her.”
Where is Jerry Harris now?
Aldama reveals that Harris wrote her a letter that she still “hasn’t processed.” She says she hasn’t written him back because she “doesn’t know what [she] would say” to him. Harris’s legal team denied being interviewed for the show. He is currently held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago and is awaiting trial for February 2022. Vulture has reached out for comment from Harris’s attorney.
What happened to La’Darius Marshall?
La’Darius Marshall left Navarro in February 2021, citing the “toxic” culture of cheerleading for his exit. He accused coach Monica Aldama of physical and mental abuse and said she became unsupportive. In episode six, Marshall says that Aldama “forgot where she came from” after she returned to Navarro from her Dancing With the Stars appearance. He claims that he told Aldama his concerns over the assistant coach’s ability to train the team and it went ignored. “If things are not working, learn to give up,” he says on his decision to leave the team.
When Aldama is asked about her falling-out with Marshall, she says that it ended because he and assistant coach Kailee Peppers, who was previously on the same team as Marshall, had arguments about a dog. According to several different members of the squad, Marshall asked Peppers to watch his dog for a semester, but she thought she was going to keep the dog. The situation escalated, and Peppers claims that he threatened to break her door down. He claims that he knocked “three” times and could hear Peppers exaggerating the situation on the phone. Other teammates chime in to claim Marshall tried to get Peppers fired, but when that was unsuccessful, he quit the team.
Later, in the episode-nine finale, Marshall returns to support Navarro at Daytona. He has a heart-to-heart talk with Aldama over what happened between them. “I feel like you’re like a child to me and that just really hurt,” Aldama says about their falling-out. Marshall says that he did not believe Aldama was abusive, and he felt hurt that she “wasn’t listening” to him when he expressed concerns over the team.