Netflix’s ‘Cheer’ addresses child porn charges facing Jerry Harris

January 12, 2022
"Cheer" star Jerry Harris' popularity with viewers following the debut of the Netflix series scored the cheerleader an invite to Vanity Fair's Oscar Party on Feb. 9, 2020 in Beverly Hills.
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People fell in love with Jerry Harris following the 2020 debut of Netflix’s hit docuseries “Cheer.”

The 22-year-old with a rough upbringing was celebrated for his encouragement of his teammates – known as “mat talk” – at Navarro College, in Corsicana, Texas, about an hour south of Dallas. At the peak of his fame, he joined then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in a conversation to engage Black voters and gave Brad Pitt a sampling of his beloved “mat talk” as a correspondent for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” at the 2020 Oscars. 

The sophomore season of “Cheer” (now streaming) doesn’t steer away from the scandal. Instead,it documents the team’s shock at Harris’ downfall, after authorities charged Harris in September 2020 with producing child pornography. According to federal court records, Harris admitted he solicited and received explicit messages on Snapchat from at least 10 to 15 individuals he knew were minors; had sex with a 15-year-old boy at a cheerleading competition in 2019; and paid a 17-year-old money in exchange for nude photos.

Jerry Harris from ‘Cheer’ charged with producing child porn. He admitted receiving explicit photos from minors, court records show

Jerry Harris facing additional charges in sexual misconduct investigation

“It’s been a very difficult year,” straight-shooting coach Monica Aldama, who has guided her team to 14 National Championships since 2000, says in the season premiere. “A lot of great opportunities and a lot of awful times.”

A montage of news reports reminds viewers of Harris’ abrupt spiral from celebrity to pariah. Aldama says she’s able to keep going because it’s her only option. “I keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every single day. Don’t have a choice.”

Harris is seen but not a predominant personality in the first few episodes of the new season, filmed from January 2020 through April 2021 (with a six-month break due to the pandemic), both before and after his arrest. The scandal takes center stage in Episode 5 – titled “Jerry” – which features two of Harris’ accusers, twin brothers identified only as Charlie and Sam, echoing comments they made in 2020 to USA TODAY.

Jerry Harris’ ‘Cheer’ teammates, coach ‘devastated’ following his arrest for child porn

The news reached Aldama at a dress rehearsal before her first live show for Season 29 of “Dancing with the Stars.”

“It was like an out-of-body experience at the time,” she remembers. “I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was already terrified.” 

Following the show, Aldama retreated to her trailer, ignoring her phone. “I couldn’t do anything about it, and I just didn’t want to read it,” she explains. That evening, she connected with the team virtually in a meeting she says “really felt like a funeral. I’ve never seen the kids cry so hard. It was just an awful situation.” 

Harris reached out to Aldama following his arrest in a letter that she describes as “so optimistic,” in which he shared hopes to be a motivational speaker. “There was not one negative thing in this letter,” she says. “I just was really caught off-guard at the hope he had for the future.”

Aldama says she’s still struggling with reconciling the person she knew Harris to be and the things he’s accused of. “I want to be supportive, yet I’m so disappointed. I don’t know what to say,” she says.

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She’s not the only one torn. Harris’ former teammate Gabi Butler also grapples with her lingering affection for Harris.

“I don’t agree with what he was accused of or condone it at all, and it is very unfortunate and it breaks my heart, but it’s literally like your family,” Butler says with tear-stained cheeks. “How are you going to just hate your family? 

“I feel like people expect me to be like, ‘Well, you should hate him, and you should never speak to him again,’ but the thing is I can’t,” she continues. “I can’t turn my back on him because he was there for me when I needed it.”

Harris remains in federal prison while awaiting trial. U.S. District Court Judge Heather McShain ruled Harris lacks control over his urges and poses “a significant danger to the community.” If convicted, he faces 15 to 30 years in federal prison.

USA TODAY has reached out to Harris’ attorney for comment. According to producers, Harris’ legal team refused to be interviewed on camera.

Contributing: Tricia L. Nadolny, Marisa Kwiatkowski, Daniel Connolly, Hannah Yasharoff and Anika Reed

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