Last November, USA Gymnastics (USAG) appointed Kerry Perry as its new President and CEO, expressing their faith that she was the right person to restore the organization’s credibility and trust in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
At the time, Perry talked a big game, promising in her press release to focus on “creating a culture of empowerment that encourages our athletes, our members, our families and our staff to have a strong voice as we move this incredible organization to heightened levels of achievement.”
Nine months later, Perry was forced to resign from her position, after a disastrous reign marked by her refusal to talk to the press, lying to Congress, and alienating Nassar survivors.
The scrutiny surrounding Perry’s leadership came to a head last week, when USA Gymnastics appointed Mary Lee Tracy as its new elite development coordinator. Tracy was a long-time USAG insider, who publicly supported Nassar in December of 2016 despite the fact that by that time, 50 survivors had come forward with allegations against Nassar. Moreover, at the time she offered Nassar her backing, he’d been charged with three counts of criminal sexual abuse, and 37,000 images of child pornography had been found on his computer.
Just five months ago, Tracy publicly defended the culture at the Karolyi Ranch, the women’s national team training center run by Bela and Marta Karolyi. Nassar survivors — most notably two-time Olympic champion Aly Raisman — said that the abusive culture at the Karolyi Ranch paved the way for Nassar’s sexual abuse. In a series of Facebook comments, Tracy implied that Raisman, and others, were lying.
Tracy’s hiring caused an immense backlash, but on Friday, even more questions were raised when USAG announced that Tracy had been fired because she had reached out to Raisman to try and clear the air.
“I tried to contact Aly to apologize and hope we could work together to make our sports better and learn from all the mistakes of the past,” Tracy wrote on Facebook. “I was never informed that I was not permitted to speak to Ali (sic) or any of the survivors!”
Then, on Friday evening, the new U.S. Olympic Committee CEO, Sarah Hirshland — who herself drew criticism when she refused to speak with Raisman after a recent Senate hearing — told USA Today that it was time for changes at USA Gymnastics.
“We’ve been following their activity and as we close the day I’m afraid I can offer nothing but disappointment,” Hirshland wrote in an email. “Under the circumstances we feel that the organization is struggling to manage its obligations effectively and it is time to consider making adjustments in the leadership. We are engaging with the USAG board to offer our perspective, and also our assistance, as they manage the situation. We expect some additional discussions will occur this weekend.”
This is now the second time in 18 months that the USOC has pressured a USAG President to resign. Last March, former president Steve Penny stepped down, with a million-dollar severance package in hand, due to his mishandling of sexual abuse allegations throughout USAG.
Perry’s appointment in November brought hope for a new start for the embattled organization, but optimism quickly faded after Perry only attended a single day of the 10-day Nassar hearings in January, where more than 200 of the disgraced doctor’s survivors gave victim impact statements.
As recently as last month, Raisman told ThinkProgress that Perry had not reached out to her personally, despite the fact that Perry told congress, under oath, that she had spoken to many survivors.
Perry testified at two congressional hearings investigating sexual abuse within the Olympic movement, and regularly provided statements that were, at best, misleading.
In May, in front of the House Commerce Committee, Perry took full credit for quickly shutting down the Karolyi Ranch just three months after taking the job. In fact, the ranch was not closed down until Olympic champion Simone Biles expressed concern about training for the 2020 Olympics at the same training site where Nassar regularly abused her.
It also took Perry eight months on the job to hold a press conference. When she finally did last month, she offered nothing of substance save some well-worn platitudes.
It is difficult to envision the road ahead for USA Gymnastics, but any path forward has to involve the voices of the survivors. The organization has to forge a future that places a higher concern on athlete safety rather than litigation, and which puts morality above money and medals. This was clearly not an option with Perry at the helm. Her dismissal is just a small step, but one that needed to be taken nonetheless.