USA Gymnastics is out of chances to get its CEO hire right
Mary Bono's run as interim president and CEO of USA Gymnastics lasted all of four days.
But while there are gymnastics championship events that last longer than her reign, she managed to create further harm to the already tarnished brand -- and raise serious questions about the organization's leadership and decision-making.
With a questionable social media presence and a résumé that includes working for the law firm hired by USAG in 2015, when abuse allegations against team doctor Larry Nassar first came to light, Bono was a horrendous choice for CEO that drew criticism seemingly as soon as her appointment was announced. It was the latest stain for the organization in a two-year span that has seen too many to count, as a result of the continued fallout from the Nassar scandal.
While Bono's departure should be welcome news for gymnastics fans, it is not the end of the battle. In fact, it's simply the beginning -- yet again -- of another hiring search, now the third since last year. Given the organization's history, we have little reason to believe the USAG board of directors will bring in the right person for the job. The entire 15-member board resigned in January, and there are new members now in their places, so it's hard to get a firm sense of who is running the show. In fact, from the outside, it looks like total chaos.
Sarah Klein, believed to be Nassar's first victim, called Bono's hiring a "mockery" and is deeply troubled by the pattern of mistakes from the group's leadership.
"They continue to retraumatize us, every time they have an 'oopsies,' with Bono, Mary Lee Tracy, etc.," she said to espnW on Tuesday, after Bono's resignation was announced. (Tracy was hired to a leadership position within USAG earlier this year, despite voicing support for Nassar in 2016 following abuse allegations. She later stepped down.) "Children are suffering at the hands of this organization. The facts are the facts: They knew about Nassar in the summer of 2015 and did nothing. Little girls were penetrated for 13 more months. That is on them.
"And yet they just hired a woman who worked for the very firm who covered for USAG and [former president] Steve Penny. This is not about hearsay. This is about the facts. As my sister Aly Raisman said, a cover-up occurred, and who better to bring into the fold but someone who has the same motivations to protect themselves."
Klein, who is a lawyer and outspoken advocate on issues of sexual abuse, says the organization simply cannot continue and is calling for its decertification and the emergence of a new governing body for the sport.
"We are not surprised by the hiring of Ms. Bono, nor by her [short] tenure as CEO of USAG," Klein said. "But this merry-go-round must stop now. USAG has proven incapable of honesty or anything approaching integrity or transparency. They are not worthy of certification, and we look to Congress to now act. We have been through enough. USAG must be decertified."
The United States Olympic Committee would be the one to make such a determination. In the meantime, USAG needs to learn that it cannot operate in a vacuum and must be transparent about the next search, if for no other reason than to prevent the cycle of bad press that has become synonymous with recent decision-making. The board needs to be forthcoming about its hiring and vetting processes. Most notably: Who is in charge of this? What does the process, from screening to interviewing, look like? What are the qualifications they are looking for in this position? And why have the previous two hires seemed so secretive?
At this point, it should (and that's clearly the key word here) be evident to USAG's decision-makers that the next leader must be someone committed to the health and safety of the athletes who will work tirelessly to ensure nothing like this will ever happen again. Seems so obvious, right?
Several prominent survivors, including Klein, Simone Biles, Raisman and Kaylee Lorincz, almost immediately criticized Bono's hiring on social media, targeting her affiliation with the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels and her anti-Nike tweet. None of them, nor their fellow survivors, had input in Bono's appointment. That is a mistake.
"One great leader is not going to change the fact that the organization itself has earned a no-confidence vote from all survivors and now the nation at large," Klein said.
No one knows better about what they experienced and how to ensure it doesn't happen again than the women who have come forward. And if it isn't possible to involve them because of pending litigation between the survivors and the organization, USAG could bring in other survivors from unrelated but similar cases. The voices of those affected by such abuse need to be represented for true progress to take place. There are no known Nassar victims currently on the board of directors. That is a major oversight.
USAG is in desperate need of financial partners, as several of their previous sponsors didn't renew their contracts amid the Nassar scandal, and this never-ending shake-up at the top, as well as constant backlash, isn't exactly good for business. A new leader must have the business savvy to understand this and recognize that there is no longer any room for error.
Lost again in USAG's incompetence will be the athletes. Biles looks to win a record fourth world all-around title at the world championships that start next week in Doha, Qatar, but this cloud will overshadow her incredible skills and accomplishments. Instead of fielding questions about her medal quest, the 21-year-old will have to answer for the organization's adults, who seem unable to answer for themselves. The role of USAG should be to help and develop talent, as well as nurture its athletes and provide them with every possible opportunity. It clearly has not done this.
While Biles and her current national teammates represent the sport's best, there are hundreds of thousands of youth across the country who will never compete at an international event but still fall under the leadership of USAG. They too rely on the organization for issues of safety and well-being, and they too deserve better. Everyone from Biles to the young child going to her first gymnastics class at the local gym deserves better.
It would be foolish to start naming people who could take over the role of president and CEO at USAG, and frankly, it's unclear who even would want such a job at this point. But whoever takes the position needs to be a perfect fit, without as much as a hiccup in his or her background. If it takes six months or longer to find such a person, then so be it. There will not be another chance to get it right.