Former UK swim coach Lars Jorgensen denies rape claims; his lawyer blames ‘woke NCAA’

A lawyer for Lars Jorgensen, former head coach of the University of Kentucky swimming and diving team, on Wednesday denied allegations made in a lawsuit accusing the coach of being a serial sexual predator.

Jorgensen is being targeted for publicly supporting former UK swimmer Riley Gaines, who gained national attention for criticizing the NCAA for allowing a transgender woman to participate in women’s swimming and diving, attorney Greg Anderson said.

“This has nothing to do with anything he has done in his private life,” Anderson said. “This all has to do with NCAA woke philosophy and his support of his swimmer, Ms. Gaines. The timing of it, in light of her statements publicly, is extremely suspicious. We will be exploring that.”

However, UK issued a statement Wednesday saying it’s taking the allegations against Jorgensen seriously enough to refer them to law enforcement.

“We are distressed to hear the disturbing allegations of sexual assault and criminal behavior by a former University of Kentucky employee. No one should be subject to the kind of abuse described in the civil lawsuit filed Friday,” the university said.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of our students and employees. We have no tolerance for harm, harassment or abuse,” the university said.

But one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said he struggled for months to get UK to investigate his complaints about Jorgensen raping, groping and harassing him.

The university didn’t want to lose a winning coach, said former UK swimmer and assistant swim coach Briggs Alexander.

“I gave my heart and soul to the team and to the program and to (athletics director) Mitch Barnhart and to Lars Jorgensen,” Alexander said Wednesday during a virtual news conference with his lawyers. “And it hurts to say that none of that mattered, because they just wanted to win. They just wanted medals.”

Jorgensen tells a different story, said Anderson, his lawyer.

Jorgensen, who coached at UK from 2012 until 2023, dated the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit when they worked at different times as his assistant coaches, Anderson said. Previously, the plaintiffs were student-athletes who swam on the UK team while Jorgensen was their coach.

(Attorneys for the plaintiffs told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday that their relationships with Jorgensen “were not consensual at any point.”)

Jorgensen, now 53, did not commit any of the acts of sexual assault described in the lawsuit, Anderson said, describing those allegations as “defamatory.”

“He didn’t rape anybody,” Anderson said. “He never assaulted anyone. He never battered anyone. He didn’t defame anyone. He never mistreated anyone. He drove his swimmers to be the best that they could. And the facts here do not add up in any way, shape or form.”

Self-reported NCAA violations

Starting in 2013, when he was promoted to head coach, Jorgensen ran a nationally successful swim team at UK that trained scores of talented athletes, Anderson said.

Jorgensen’s problems began during the 2022 NCAA women’s championships, when Gaines and transgender swimmer Lia Thomas tied for fifth place in the 200-yard freestyle race, Anderson said. Thomas was presented with the trophy. Gaines protested, joining a national controversy over transgender athletes in women’s sports.

University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines at the 2019 SEC Swimming and Diving Championships.
University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines at the 2019 SEC Swimming and Diving Championships.

“Her head coach at the time, Lars, came out and said, ‘I support my swimmer, I support Riley Gaines, she was my swimmer, and I think this was fundamentally unfair,’” Anderson said.

“That’s all he said. He didn’t say anything anti-trans. He didn’t say anything anti-NCAA directly. He didn’t say anything anti-Kentucky. He just said, ‘I think this is unfair.’ And it is. It was.”

According to documents obtained by the Herald-Leader, UK self-reported its own Level 3 (non-suspension) violations to the NCAA later that year, saying the swim team trained on its days off and practiced for longer than allowed.

Jorgensen was suspended for one week as an institutional penalty, UK told the NCAA.

On Feb. 22, 2023, Anderson sent the NCAA a letter that warned it to not allow the Riley Gaines controversy and allegations that Jorgensen is “starting certain swim practices five minutes early” to wreck the coach’s career.

“This is the reason I write you, before something relatively minor explodes into a story we are convinced will not reflect well on the NCAA,” the lawyer wrote.

“Indeed, it indicates the NCAA has joined the mob mentality in persecuting coaches and athletes that not only openly oppose trans athletes but those, like Coach Jorgensen, who simply did not speak out in support of it,” he wrote.

The coach’s resignation

If Anderson hoped to save his client’s job at UK, then it didn’t work.

Jorgensen and UK signed a settlement last June that allowed him to resign with a $75,000 departing payment, no admission of wrongdoing by anyone and a mutual non-disparagement agreement between him and the university. His base salary that school year was $177,500.

Under the terms of Jorgensen’s employment contract, UK had been entitled to fire him for “cause,” with no payout, for reasons including causing harm to a student or risking harm to the university’s reputation.

UK offered no explanation for Jorgensen’s departure at the time. On Wednesday, UK spokesperson Kristi Willett told the Herald-Leader the coach’s resignation was “based on NCAA violations, with the expectations that he would cooperate with UK and the NCAA.”

Far more disturbing allegations were coming.

Last week, Alexander and a second plaintiff, “Jane Doe,” sued the university, Jorgensen, Barnhart and previous swimming and diving head coach Gary Conelly in U.S. District Court in Lexington. They alleged a “toxic, sexually hostile environment” inside the swim program under Jorgensen.

UK betrayed its student-athletes and swim team staff by ignoring years of warnings about Jorgensen’s conduct, Alexander said Wednesday.

UK’s Title IX compliance office, who is supposed to investigate sexual misconduct claims at the university, instead tried to look the other way, he said.

Briggs Alexander, a transgender man who began transitioning in 2021, formerly was a UK swimmer and assistant swim coach. In the lawsuit, Alexander is referred to by his previous name and she/her pronouns when referring to events prior to transitioning, while swimming for UK as a student-athlete.

“It’s important for me to realize who I was in the moment of my abuse, and that’s a woman, she/her, on the team with my teammates,” Alexander said Wednesday.

In the suit, Alexander and Doe said Jorgensen was emotionally controlling and bullying; engaged in punitive training practices, including dangerous weight loss demands; and sexually harassed, groped and raped them.

Warnings about Jorgensen’s behavior toward women in his swim programs started around the time he was hired in 2012, based on his alleged actions with a student at the University of Toledo when he was head coach there, but UK did not adequately investigate any of the claims, according to the suit.

In a response to the Herald-Leader on Wednesday, UK’s Willett said: “We had no credible evidence of sexual harassment or misconduct by Lars Jorgensen at the University of Toledo at the time he was hired as a swim coach at the University of Kentucky.”

Last summer, the plaintiffs said, they tried to file complaints about Jorgensen with UK’s Title IX office, but nobody seemed interested, citing the likelihood that he would resign soon, anyway. To this date, they said, it’s not clear that UK has ever investigated Jorgensen for sexual misconduct, as compared to NCAA rules violations.

“I went to them and I disclosed my abuse and I thought it was being taken care of,” Alexander said Wednesday.

“Months went by and I never heard anything back. So I reached out and I was — I was repeatedly discouraged and vigorously discouraged to not come forward and to not publish this,” he said.

There probably are more victims out there wondering whether they should speak up, he added.

“There was a team of us — there were 40 women on our team,” Alexander said. “I know that over those 10 years, there were probably hundreds of women that came through. I just want to share my story and hope that they can feel like there’s a space for them to come forward.”

In a response to the Herald-Leader, UK’s Willett said: “We cannot discuss the allegations in detail because of legal action taken and criminal allegations made.”

However, she added, “We are reviewing previous actions and cooperating with law enforcement. Anyone who has witnessed, experienced or learned of sexual harassment or misconduct should share information with the UK Office for Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity or UK Police.”

Asked about the lawsuit last Sunday, after a news conference to introduce new UK men’s basketball coach Mark Pope, Barnhart told reporters: “I can’t say anything.”

“It’s under litigation,” the athletic director said. “I would say, we always want to have safety first for our student-athletes, our coaches and our staff.”

Former UK swimmers allege sexual misconduct by former coach Lars Jorgensen