Two weeks ago, USA Gymnastics president Kerry Perry finally gave a press conference — her first in her eight months on the job — and filibustered questions with empty platitudes about progress, change, and accountability in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
Then, this week, USA Women’s Gymnastics appointed Mary Lee Tracy, the president and head coach of Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy, as its new elite development coordinator.
This is perhaps the worst possible decision the organization could make at this time. Why? Well, not only has Tracy been accused of questionable coaching practices in the past — including over-training and under-nourishing her athletes, an accusation eerily similar to the charges leveled against other USAG officials by several Olympic gymnasts during the Nassar trial — but she publicly defended Nassar even after his indictment for sexual abuse, and defended the abhorrent conditions at the Karolyi Ranch (the former site of the national team training camps) as recently as five months ago.
Two-time Olympic champion Aly Raisman understated things when she called this a “profound disappointment” and a “slap in the face for survivors.”
USA Gymnastics has appointed someone who, in my view, supported Nassar, victim-shamed survivors, & has shown no willingness to learn from the past. This is a slap in the face for survivors, & further confirmation that nothing at @USAG has changed. What a profound disappointment! https://t.co/lklLiqsOCJ
— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) August 29, 2018
In mid-December of 2016, almost 50 patients (mostly gymnasts) had already filed formal sexual abuse accusations against Nassar, and the Michigan Attorney General had already charged the former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor with three counts of criminal sexual conduct for “predatory, menacing, criminal acts involving a minor, a young girl under the age of 13.”
Additionally, 37,000 images of child pornography had already been discovered on Nassar’s computer, for which Nassar would be sentenced to 60 years in federal prison.
And yet, Tracy was adamant that Nassar could not be guilty of sexual abuse.
“My Olympians have all worked with Larry,” Tracy told WCPO Cincinnati at the time. “We were all defending him because he has helped so many kids in their careers. He has protected them, taken care of them, worked with me and worked with their parents. He’s been amazing.”
Mary Lee Tracy defended Nassar AFTER more than 50 women had filed report
AFTER 37,000 images of child porn were found.
AFTER Larry was indicted for abusing Kyle.
After all that, she still said it wasn't true, he was "amazing"
USAG just put an enabler in charge again. https://t.co/SqYwLjZQni
— Rachael Denhollander (@R_Denhollander) August 29, 2018
Now, it’s reasonable to assume — or at least hope — that Tracy has come around, and now believes that Nassar was a serial sexual predator. However, she certainly doesn’t seem to have any understanding of how the systems in place at USAG contributed to Nassar’s enabling.
In March, the popular Gymnastics podcast, Gymcastic, posted a link on its Facebook page to an article in which Raisman called out the deplorable conditions at the Karolyi Ranch, and detailed how those conditions contributed to the culture of abuse, fear, and silence within USAG. Tracy was one of many commenters on the post. She first agreed with another commenter — Kelli Hill, a former USAG board member and current USAG International Elite Committee chair — who said that Raisman was being dishonest. Then, Tracy called the ranch a “learning environment.”
“[I]t wasn’t luxury but it was camp,” Tracy wrote. “I have gone there for 25+ years of my life because it was a learning environment for me and my athletes!”
When Lynn Faber Raisman, Aly’s mother, commented that perhaps Tracy might have had a different experience at the ranch than the athletes, Tracy got incredibly defensive. She then went on to describe the room she stayed in at the Karolyi Ranch in vivid detail.
In that same thread on Facebook, Alyssa Beckerman, a member of the U.S. national gymnastics team from 1997-2001, and Dominique Moceanu, a 1996 Olympic champion, shared stories of Tracy bullying them, primarily over their weight. And this isn’t the first time Tracy has been accused of such things.
In 2004, Beckerman, who left her family in New Jersey to go train with Tracy in Ohio when she was 17 years old, talked about Tracy to the O.C. Register, as part of an extensive investigation into the culture of abuse in gymnastics.
Beckerman said that Tracy was emotionally abusive, and tried to drive a wedge between the teenager and her mother.
“She would always say, `You don’t want to be like your mother, do you?’ She said my mom was wishy-washy,” Beckerman said.
Additionally, Beckerman said that during the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics, Tracy forced her to consume a diet of fewer than 1,100 calories and train 10 hours a day. She downed anti-inflammatory drugs at startlingly high doses, and constantly suffered injuries — she suffered nine broken bones in her career. One time while training at the Karolyi Ranch, Beckerman ended up suffering from a bleeding ulcer.
On Twitter, Beckerman called the appointment of Tracy a “giant step backwards for USAG.”
“My experiences with her as my coach were nightmarish,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, let alone watch it poison the new culture trying to establish itself in the sport. I am not alone in this sentiment.”
USAG’s press release boasts that Tracy “is well-known throughout the gymnastics community for her passion for inspiring and developing self-esteem, confidence and courage in young women.”
As the elite development coordinator, Tracy will oversee the developmental pipeline for women’s gymnastics.
It’s a new world at USA Gymnastics. A new world that looks disturbingly like the old world.