Where are the adults at USA Gymnastics? The future of the sport is in jeopardy
Stop me if you've heard this one before: There was a scandal at USA Gymnastics over the weekend.
Yup, another day, another drama at the nation's gymnastics federation. The disgraced organization announced Friday that it was bringing on former Congresswoman Mary Bono as its new interim president and CEO, and it took approximately the time of a Simone Biles vault to find significant problems with the hire.
The organization has been criticized for its mishandling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal for the better part of two years. Dozens of athletes within USAG and hundreds of others who were patients of the former doctor at Michigan State were subjected to repeated assault, in part because of the neglect within the governing body, and those in power have continued to botch the fallout, sparking one public-relations nightmare after another.
It seems that the new hire will be no different. Biles, herself a victim of Nassar, criticized Bono's appointment on Saturday. Sharing a since-deleted tweet Bono posted in September in which she condemned Nike for its support of Colin Kaepernick, the four-time Olympic gold medalist questioned Bono's ability to help the organization land sponsors. Several of USAG's longtime partners, including Under Armour, did not renew deals after the handling of the Nassar scandal, and the organization has not had an apparel contract since 2017.
*mouth drop*- Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) October 13, 2018
don't worry, it's not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything https://t.co/cYQizcjywn
Biles' tweet went viral, and Bono issued an apology and expressed regret: "This doesn't reflect how I will approach my position @USAGym I will do everything I can to help build, w/ the community, an open, safe & positive environment," she said. In a statement, the USA Gymnastics board of directors claimed they did review Bono's background and social media activity but called missing her Nike tweet an "oversight."
"We are disappointed about the tweet, and Mary has expressed regret in posting it," the board said in the statement. "We support Mary and her ability to help us move forward in the interim period."
Still, it's not a great look when someone is having to apologize just three days into her tenure, and it certainly makes one wonder just what went into this hiring process -- interim or not -- if, at best, no one noticed a problematic tweet from last month.
While the Nike tweet raises a red flag and is certainly controversial, it's by no means the only issue with Bono. The 56-year-old previously worked as a principal at Faegre Baker Daniels, the law firm hired by USAG when the organization initially suspended Nassar in the summer of 2015 after hearing about abuse allegations. An attorney at the practice allowed Nassar to use "false excuses" to explain his absence from the national team that year, and the attorney said USAG would explain his absence by saying he was missing for "personal reasons." Nassar continued to treat patients at Michigan State for another year.
Kaylee Lorincz says she was one who continued to see Nassar after the suspension. The now 19-year-old spoke up over the weekend, pointing out the emotional and physical damage done to her and others in that year. Several of her fellow survivors, including Aly Raisman, wrote similar posts.
You owe me an explanation of why you and your firm allowed Larry to abuse me in 2016 after you were well aware that he was abusing little girls. https://t.co/a6Xwl9S2vJ- Kaylee Lorincz (@KayleeLorincz) October 15, 2018
Neither Bono, nor anyone at USAG, has yet to comment on her involvement with Faegre Baker Daniels, but -- and apologies for my lack of eloquence here -- what the hell? How could anyone think bringing someone in from this firm would be the best way to move on from the scandal? It's baffling, disgraceful and, frankly, disturbing. Even though Bono's name does not appear in any documents or emails that detail the law firm's previous work with USAG, it does not take a degree in public relations to know that the optics of hiring someone from this firm are terrible and raise questions about the search process. Starting with: Was there one?
As disappointing as it is, perhaps it's not totally surprising. This is simply the latest in a long list of inexplicable decisions by USA Gymnastics. Steve Penny, the president from 2005 to 2017, and his predecessor, Robert Colarossi, suggested in court documents that they were not obligated to report allegations of misconduct to authorities, fostering an environment that allowed Nassar to continue abusing hundreds of young women. Penny resigned in March 2017 and was later replaced by Kerry Perry, who lasted just nine months on the job.
During her tenure, Perry drew criticism for a number of missteps associated with the Nassar scandal, perhaps most notably naming Mary Lee Tracy as the women's national team development coordinator in August. Tracy had gone on the record defending Nassar after dozens of women came forward. She also "inappropriately" tried to reach out to Raisman, USAG said at the time. Tracy was asked to step down. Perry's resignation wasn't far behind, coming in September.
One would think that after such a disastrous stretch for the organization, those involved would take their time to ensure that the next person in the role would be a better fit. Yet here we are. It has become increasingly clear that those in power at USA Gymnastics are incompetent and incapable of running such an organization. It's time for the United States Olympic Committee to decertify it and for another gymnastics federation to emerge.
On the brink of the 2018 world championship in Doha, Qatar, with Biles likely a lock to win her fourth all-around title and the U.S. contingent the favorite for the team title, it's a disgrace that the talent and hard work of the women competing will be overlooked again due to the mistakes of those who are supposed to protect and support them. It's simply unacceptable.
On a media conference call Monday organized by USAG, Biles said she would answer more questions on Bono and her tweet after worlds. And, with a hint of defiance in her voice, added, "I said what I said."
But it shouldn't come down to the 21-year-old Biles to constantly be the voice of reason and the one to speak up. As arguably the best gymnast in the history of the sport, she has enough on her plate. Nor should the responsibility fall on her fellow survivors, who are constantly subjected to reliving their abuse with every bad decision USAG and Michigan State continue to make.
When will the adults who are paid to make decisions make the right one? What more needs to happen? Aside from the obvious ethical issues, none of these recent moves will help secure sponsorships, and they will continue to deter young talent from the sport. There have been reports of financial troubles, and it's hard to think the situation is currently improving. It doesn't seem like an overstatement to say the future of American gymnastics is in jeopardy.
Sarah Hirshland, who was named CEO of the USOC in July and has previously criticized USAG and its leadership, now needs to take further action. Expressing disappointment, as she did following Tracy's appointment and resignation, is no longer enough. Biles and her teammates deserve better, just as all of those who were subjected to Nassar and the blind eye of other enabling adults in the organization did.
While Team USA is in line to win a number of medals at worlds and the 2020 Olympics, that is in spite of the organization at this point. With training camps put on a temporary hiatus after horror stories came out about the Karolyi Ranch in Texas, the women have been training mostly on their own. To start a new federation would clearly be challenging, but it might be the most important step to saving the sport in this country.
It's time for a change -- before it's too late.