Over the past two years, USA Gymnastics has been given every opportunity imaginable to demonstrate it is an organization with a conscious, one that cares more about the safety and security of its athletes than money and medals. It’s had countless chances to prove it has learned a meaningful lesson after years of enabling the largest sex abuse scandal in U.S. sports history. To display, through its actions, that it is committed to reform, willing to accept accountability and repercussions, and is truly remorseful for the way it treated survivors of sexual abuse for decades.
And at every single turn, USA Gymnastics has failed.
Their latest debacle unfolded on Tuesday, four days after appointing an interim President and CEO. Former Congresswoman Mary Bono was forced to resign after a month-old tweet was surfaced in which she publicly criticized Nike (a huge sponsor of Simone Biles, the sport’s biggest star) for supporting Colin Kaepernick’s protests against racism. Coupled with outcries over her longtime employment at the law firm that helped USAG cover up Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, Bono was out of a job before business cards could be printed.
And that should be the final straw: the U.S. Olympic Committee has to decertify USAG immediately.
This is an organization that commands absolutely no faith in its ability to run itself, let alone safely guide the recreational and competitive careers of tens of thousands of young boys and girls across the country.
The past six weeks alone prove that USAG’s dysfunction and corruption didn’t end when Nassar got a de-facto life sentence and its entire Board of Directors was forced to resign. This is still very much an organization in chaos.
Late last week, USAG announced that Bono, once a gymnast herself and a former Republican congresswoman from California, would step in as its interim President and CEO. That lasted for exactly four days.
Less than 24 hours after the announcement, Simone Biles, arguably the most dominant athlete in the world in any given sport, criticized Bono for a September tweet in which she was shown blacking out the Nike logo on a pair of golf cleats with a marker. “[D]on’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything (sic),” Biles tweeted. (Bono has since deleted the tweet.)
Then, criticism mounted because of Bono’s work with the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels. While Bono was employed there, another lawyer at the firm worked directly with USA Gymnastics to help come up with excuses to explain Nassar’s absence during big gymnastics events in the summer of 2015. They couldn’t tell the truth, of course, because Nassar was under investigation for sexually assaulting gymnasts while an employee of USAG.
It took USA Gymnastics more than a month that summer to fire Nassar, and they allowed him to publicly portray it as a resignation. Then, USA Gymnastics and lawyers at Faegre Baker Daniels kept quiet while Nassar remained employed at Michigan State University for a full year — a year in which he abused more patients, including Kaylee Lorincz.
This weekend, Lorincz criticized Bono for the law firm’s inaction.
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
On Monday, two-time Olympic champion Aly Raisman added her voice to the outrage.
“USOC are you just going to sit back and not say or do anything, AGAIN?” Raisman tweeted.
In her resignation announcement, Bono said she “proudly stand(s) behind” her work at Faegre Baker Daniels, and defended her tweet about Kaepernick.
“With respect to Mr. Kaepernick, he nationally exercised his first amendment right to kneel,” Bono wrote. “I exercised mine: to mark over the on my own golf shoes, the logo of the company sponsoring him for ‘believing in something even if it means sacrificing everything’ — while at a tournament for families who have lost a member of the armed services (including my brother-in-law, a Navy SEAL) who literally ‘sacrificed everything.'”
She neglected to mention Nassar survivors, Kaepernick’s fight against systemic racism and police brutality, or her former law firm’s role in covering up Nassar’s crimes during her statement.
It’s obvious that she views herself as a victim in all of this, which is laughable. But it’s also abundantly clear that USAG never should have appointed her to the position in the first place, knowing her history.
This all comes just six weeks after USAG announced Mary Lee Tracy, the president and head coach of Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy, as its new elite development coordinator. That move also received immediate backlash from athletes and allies alike, because Tracy gave several public interviews in which she defended Nassar, even after he was indicted for sexual abuse and almost 50 girls and women have come forward with accusations against him. As recently as six months ago, she engaged in the vile victim-shaming of Nassar survivors on Facebook.
Two-time Olympic champion Aly Raisman called her appointment a “slap in the face for survivors.”
Tracy resigned under pressure a few days into her tenure as well, and Sarah Hirshland, the new CEO of the USOC, expressed extreme disappointment in USAG’s leadership. Days later, USAG President Kerry Perry resigned just nine months after taking the job.
Honestly, “chaos” isn’t even descriptive enough of a word to characterize the current state of affairs at USAG. It is a raging dumpster fire. The USOC — which, it must be said, is itself hardly the most virtuous of organizations — has to step in and do something. Under the Ted Stevens Amatuer Spots Act of 1978, the USOC has the power to certify (and decertify) the national governing bodies of sports in the United States. USOC certification gives organizations the authority to oversee national and international competitions on the Olympic level, and to work on developing the sport on the grassroots level as well. In the past 12 years, it has only decertified a national governing body twice.
But, if enabling the biggest sex abuse scandal in U.S. sports history, then failing to show any leadership and accountability in the aftermath, isn’t reason enough to take such a drastic measure, then what is?
This isn’t the first time such a discussion has come up. Nassar survivors began calling on USOC to decertify USAG back in the spring of 2017, in the hopes of giving the organization a fresh start, and ridding it of all the people at the top who were complicit. In January 2018, during the Nassar sentencing hearing, the USOC itself went so far as to threaten decertification, but expressed hesitancy to do so because of the impact it might have on the athletes. Instead, it called for the Board of Directors to resign, and for a change of culture.
The former happened immediately. The latter? Well, it’s obvious that USAG has not taken that directive seriously.
Decertification isn’t an instant fix, and accommodations would have to be figured out to ensure that athletes who have worked so hard won’t have their Olympic dreams derailed. But the priority must be in making USAG a place where athletes feel comfortable speaking up, and leaders take abuse and accountability seriously.
USAG had its chance — and then another; and then another — to prove that it can do those things on its own. It has monumentally failed. It’s time for the USOC to stop letting it try again.