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Cheer: Gabi And Monica Deserve To Mourn Who They Thought Jerry Harris Was

Grazia logo Grazia 14/01/2022 Georgia Aspinall
Gabi Butler © Credits: Netflix Gabi Butler

The second season of Netflix’s Cheer is wholly different to the first. What was once an endearing insight into the under-estimated world of competitive cheerleading – and the harrowing lives of those drawn to it – has since become a reality show all about scandal, rivalry and the downfalls of global fame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s as compelling as it always was, it’s just a lot… messier.

No such scandal can be more intriguing than that of Jerry Harris. A former treasure of the team, and to be honest the entire world, who is currently awaiting trial for child pornography charges (that he has pled not guilty to), many viewers were intrigued to see how his teammates feel about the news. James Thomas? Confused. La’Darius Marshall? Disgusted. But Gabi Butler and Monica Aldama? They’re grieving.

‘I was here in my room when I got the call about Jerry and immediately my heart completely sank,’ Gabi recalls through tears. ‘I honestly thought I was living in a bad dream, I couldn’t wrap my head around any of that. I felt like someone had just died.

‘I don’t agree with what he was accused of or condone it at all, it’s very unfortunate and it breaks my heart,’ she continued. ‘But it’s literally like your family, how are you just going to hate your family? So I feel like people expect me to hate him and never speak to him again but the thing is I can’t. I cannot and I won’t, I can’t turn my back on him because he was there for me when I needed him.’

Monica was appearing on Dancing With The Stars when the news broke, in September 2020, and was at a dress rehearsal for her first live show when she found out. ‘It was like an out of body experience, I felt like I couldn’t breathe,’ she explained. ‘I didn’t even want to look at my phone because I was scared… I couldn’t take the weight of all of it, I couldn’t do anything about it and I just didn’t want to read it.

We had a team meeting that night and it really felt like a funeral.

‘We had a team meeting that night, and it really felt like a funeral, I’ve never seen the kids cry so hard,’ Monica continued. ‘It was just an awful situation… I cried myself to sleep. I was really struggling mentally because I loved Jerry like my own child but I have all these emotions that are just fighting each other.’

Monica explains that Jerry wrote her a ‘hopeful’ letter from Metropolitan Correction Centre in Chicago, where has been held since his arrest.

‘It was hard to read,’ she says. ‘I can’t even process it right now because my head is battling the “He did wrong” versus this person I know. I can’t wrap my head around what I need to even think or how to feel, which is why I haven’t written him back because I don’t know what I would say. I want to be supportive, yet I’m so disappointed.’

Since the show aired, many have taken issue with Gabi and Monica’s reaction.

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It’s understandable why some are frustrated. Watching Jerry’s accusers tell their story, it’s heart-wrenching and extremely triggering for those who have been victim to sexual abuse. For anyone to express sympathy with Jerry, it has incited an anger in viewers that cannot comprehend loving someone who could be accused of such a horrific crime.

But in fact, these are the conversations we need to see and discuss in a respectful, empathetic way. Because Gabi and Monica deserve to mourn the friend they thought they knew. For them to question how someone they've only known to be loving can be accused of something so terrible, it opens up a conversation for the way in which abuse begins, the way it can be hidden (particularly in cases involving social media) and what the appropriate reaction is when someone comes forward with an accusation against an adored member of society - or simply, your family.

What’s triggering about Gabi and Monica’s words is that they sits beside a very common reaction from friends of those accused of abusers: unconditional support and in turn, attempts to invalidate accusers.

But the thing is, that’s not what Monica and Gabi are doing at all through their words on the show. In the episode, both of them acknowledge the crimes that Jerry is accused of as though they have been proven guilty (which, we must add for legal reasons, they have not and Jerry has pled not guilty to federal child pornography charges and accusations that he solicited sex from minors.)

Gabi and Monica do not apologise for Jerry in the episode, nor offer any indication that they think he doesn’t deserve punishment if found guilty. What they do do, is explain the confusion, guilt and heartbreak that comes from loving someone who is accused of abusing others.

Part of the story of Cheer is reconciling with the fact that the lovable underdog of season one could disappoint viewers so much.

Some might view this retelling of their personal pain as narcissistic – but it’s clear from the context of this show that they’re being asked questions about how they felt in the moment Jerry was accused and how they are handling it now. It’s an important detail not just because we rarely get to see this side of a story of abuse, but because Gabi and Monica represent other viewers of Cheer who too fell in love with Jerry on the show.

Jerry was beloved by countless people around the world, many hearts broke upon hearing this accusation. Part of the story of Cheer is, unfortunately, reconciling with the fact a man once centered as the lovable underdog of season one could disappoint viewers in such a drastic way. In that sense, Gabi and Monica offer a much more realistic portrayal of what it means to love someone accused of abuse than those who responded with an immediate cutting off of the friendship.

That might be how you would react, or how you think you would, but Cheer does an excellent job of portraying just how complicated situations like this can be. The accusers story is still the focus of the episode - as it should be - and thus the inclusion of anger and confusion from Jerry’s teammates as well as pain and grief from his closest friends made for a deep, thoughtful retelling of what happened.

So before trolling Gabi or Monica for feeling conflicted about Jerry, think about how you might genuinely feel if your best friend was accused of such a crime. Blind-sighted, bereaved, confused and angry – there is no simple outcome or reaction for anyone affected by the actions of men accused of abuse.

Read More:

Cheer’s Maddy Brum: Everything You Need To Know About The Breakout Star Of Season Two

How Netflix's Cheer Gets The Dark Side Of Cheerleading Right

5 Joyful (And Unexpected) Beauty Lessons We've Learnt From Netflix' Navarro College Cheer Squad

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