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Li Li Leung spent two years watching USA Gymnastics struggle through the aftermath of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. A former college gymnast at the University of Michigan who still considered herself “embedded” in the sport while serving as a vice president with the NBA, Leung kept waiting for things to get better.
Only they didn’t. Leadership changed. More and more survivors stepped forward to detail their experiences at the hands of Nassar, a former national team doctor. The United States Olympic Committee began the process of stripping USA Gymnastics of its status as the national governing body. One of the U.S. Olympic movement’s marquee programs was rudderless and fighting for its survival.
“I was frankly very, very disappointed in terms of where the sport and the organization had gotten to,” Leung said.
So disappointed that she felt compelled to come home.
USA Gymnastics hired Leung as its new president and chief executive officer on Tuesday, a job she accepted in an effort to help the organization and the sport find a way forward.
“I have bled, sweated and cried alongside my teammates as well as other team members and other gymnasts,” Leung said Tuesday. “And it really broke my heart to see where the sport was. We can do better for the sport. … Our gymnasts deserve better.”
The 45-year-old Leung, who will begin her new position on March 8, competed as a member of a U.S. junior national training team and represented the U.S. in the 1988 Junior Pan American Games. She helped Michigan win four Big Ten titles during her college career and served as a volunteer assistant gymnastics coach while earning two master’s degrees at the University of Massachusetts. Her professional stops include stints at USA Basketball and the NBA.
Now she returns to the sport she started in at age 7, hoping to prevent USA Gymnastics from being decertified by the USOC.
USA Gymnastics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December in an effort to reach settlements in the dozens of sex-abuse lawsuits it faces in courts across the country from athletes who blame the group for failing to supervise Nassar, a team doctor accused of molesting them.
The 55-year-old Nassar worked at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University for decades. He is serving an effective life sentence for child porn possession and molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.
Leung said she has already spoken to USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland and that “both sides are committed to working closely to resolve the decertification request.”
“We remain hopeful, that USA Gym will be the (national governing body) going forward,” Leung said.
Hirshland called Leung “an accomplished professional” in a statement and expressed optimism about the direction of the organization under Leung’s leadership.
“I’m very hopeful that Li Li’s combination of experience and desire to lead will be a positive force for change in the lives of gymnasts all over the country,” Hirshland said.
Leung is the fourth person to hold the position of president and CEO in the last two years. Steve Penny resigned under pressure in March 2017. His replacement, Kerry Perry, lasted less than a year when she stepped down under heavy scrutiny from the USOC last September.
The organization then turned to former U.S. Rep. Mary Bono on an interim basis last October, but she resigned after just four days, saying she felt her affiliation would be a “liability” after a social media post by Bono criticizing Nike and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew widespread scrutiny within the gymnastics community.
Leung acknowledged she is well aware of the churn at the top but added, “I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t think I could have been successful in it.”
USA Gymnastics surveyed more than 200 members of the gymnastics community during the process, including current or former athletes, coaches, club owners and judges. Board chair Kathryn Carson said Leung “has the passion, the personal commitment and the resilience to lead USA Gymnastics at this juncture.”
Leung’s to-do list includes what she called “fair and equitable resolution” with Nassar survivors so “they can work with us to make the fundamental changes that are necessary.” USA Gymnastics has been criticized over the last two years for its tone-deaf approach.
Olympic champion Simone Biles, herself a Nassar victim, openly challenged Perry’s inability to articulate a path toward reconciliation before the national championships last August. Less than a month later, Perry was out of a job.
John Manly, a California-based attorney representing dozens of athletes suing USA Gymnastics, dismissed Leung’s hire as “business as usual.” Manly called Leung “an insider” and said survivors were “ignored” after asking to be part of the process.
“I think the good thing about it is it gives survivors and their families absolute clarity about what needs to happen to USA Gymnastics is that it needs to go away and be replaced because they’re incapable of reforming themselves,” Manly said.
Leung said her focus will be on helping foster a culture focused on athlete health and safety. When an independent report released in December detailed a pattern of negligence that allowed Nassar’s behavior to run unchecked for so long, Leung said she empathized with its details of “having gymnasts suffer silently, sacrifice their childhood, competing on broken bones.”
She plans to keep that perspective in mind as USA Gymnastics attempts to forge ahead.
“Judge us on our response,” she said. “Judge us on our actions going forward. We will learn from the past and look to the future to heal and rebuild.”
ENTERTAINMENT DEAL UPDATE:
USA Gymnastics’ announcement Wednesday that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection was in some ways expected. The embattled organization is currently under investigation by Congress and under threat of losing its status as the national governing body for gymnastics by the US Olympic Committee (USOC). It faces more than 100 lawsuits by gymnasts who claim that the organization failed to act to protect them against sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, who for many years was the national team doctor, even after reports of his abuse were made to USA Gymnastics officials.
Board chair Kathryn Carson said in a statement that the move is meant to “expedite resolution of claims by the Nassar survivors.” However, John Manly, the attorney who represents more than 100 of those survivors – including Olympians McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber – says the bankruptcy filing will delay, not speed up resolution of those lawsuits. Manly is currently taking depositions and discovery in some of those suits, which are now on hold because of the bankruptcy filing.
“If the goal is to delay, this is what you do,” he tells TIME. “We have depositions and request for other discovery and subpoenas lined up to get at the meat of what they knew and when they knew it [about the sexual abuse]. Bankruptcy stops that because there is an automatic stay on litigation.”
In its filing, USA Gymnastics lists former CEO Steve Penny, who led the organization during much of the time Nassar abused gymnasts, as the largest creditor, with a nearly $ 340,000 claim. Penny resigned in 2017 as the sexual abuse allegations mounted, and he and the organization were criticized for how they handled the abuse reports. He left USA Gymnastics with a reported $ 1 million severance, approved by the board. And in October, Penny was arrested after he was indicted on charges of tampering with evidence in the Nassar case. Texas law enforcement officials charged Penny with ordering removal of documents from USA Gymnastics’ national training center, the Karolyi Ranch, in 2016.
In her statement, Carson said that any money USA Gymnastics may owe as a result of the lawsuits — when they resume — would be covered by the organization’s insurance policies.
But those athletes with pending lawsuits will have to take yet another legal step because of USA Gymnastics’ decision to file for Chapter 11 protection. The federal bankruptcy court in Indianapolis, where the organization is based, will set a time during which all creditors must step forward and file a claim for any funds they are owed by USA Gymnastics. Creditors usually have four to six months to file these claims, and the gymnasts currently suing USA Gymnastics must also file this separate claim for any damages or recompense they feel they are owed.
From the survivors’ perspective, the delay in the litigation means they will continue to search for answers about why the organization they believed was protecting their best interests allowed Nassar to continue to treat them — at competitions, including in hotel rooms, and at training camps — even after many of them had reported his abuse to USA Gymnastics officials.
“I think USA Gymnastics thinks this is now just about money,” says Manly. “My direction from my clients is that we are not discussing money until we get the truth. The bankruptcy definitely makes it difficult; it delays things and is definitely not a win for us. But we have trial dates set, and we are moving toward trial.”
ENTERTAINMENT DEAL UPDATE:
USA Gymnastics is turning to bankruptcy in an effort to ensure its survival.
The embattled organization filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition on Wednesday as it attempts to reach settlements in the dozens of sex-abuse lawsuits it faces and to forestall its potential demise at the hands of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
USA Gymnastics filed the petition in Indianapolis, where it is based. It faces 100 lawsuits representing 350 athletes in various courts across the country who blame the group for failing to supervise Larry Nassar, a team doctor accused of molesting them.
Kathryn Carson, who was recently elected chairwoman of the board of directors, said the organization is turning to bankruptcy to speed things up after mediation attempts failed to gain traction.
“Those discussions were not moving at any pace,” Carson said. “We as a board felt this was a critical imperative and decided to take this action.”
The filing does not affect the amount of money available to victims, which would come from previously purchased insurance coverage, she said. Carson said the insurance companies “are aware we’re taking this action and our expectation is they will come to the table and pay on our coverage.”
Carson added: “This is not a liquidation. This is a reorganization.”
One that USA Gymnastics hopes will buy it enough time to fend off the USOC’s intent to decertify it.
The USOC on Nov. 5 took steps to remove USAG as the sport’s governing body at the Olympic level — a step that’s taken only under the most extreme circumstances. In an open letter to the gymnastics community, USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said “you deserve better,” and that the challenges facing USA Gymnastics were more than it was capable of overcoming as currently constructed.
Carson said the legal maneuvering Wednesday delays the USOC’s efforts to strip its designation as a national governing body.
“We always have a dialogue going with them and intend to make it clear with them we have a lot to talk about and we want to keep that going,” Carson said.
USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky disagreed.
“While we fully understand that USAG believes this restructuring will begin to solve deficiencies we’ve identified, the filing does not impact our Section 8 complaint and that process will move forward,” Sandusky said.
ENTERTAINMENT DEAL UPDATE:
USA Gymnastics filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, which will allow it to continue operating while also resolving the sexual abuse claims made by several athletes against former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar.
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Ron Galimore, the last remaining USA Gymnastics official who was in a leadership role during the explosive sexual abuse scandal that emerged in 2016, has resigned.
The organization made the announcement in a two-sentence press release. “The USA Gymnastics Board of Directors has accepted the resignation of Chief Operating Officer Ron Galimore. We wish him well in his future endeavors.“
Galimore, a gymnast who competed in the 1980 Olympics and was employed by Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics since 1994, has been a lightning rod for criticism by abuse survivors. His resignation comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Olympic Committee initiated proceedings to remove USA Gymnastics’ status as the sport’s governing body in the country.
The Indianapolis Star first reported in 2016 that USA Gymnastics had received reports of sexual abuse but did not immediately contact law enforcement authorities. Several hundred gymnasts, including the entire Fierce Five 2012 Olympic champion women’s team, later came forward with reports they had been sexually abused by Larry Nassar, who was the organization’s team doctor.
Earlier this year, the Star obtained emails that revealed Galimore was among the USA Gymnastics officials who were involved in finding excuses for Nassar’s absences from events even after the organization became aware of growing reports of Nassar’s abuse beginning in 2015.
Olympian Aly Raisman, who was abused by Nassar, has been vocal in questioning why Galimore remained at USA Gymnastics given his role in the Nassar abuse scandal. Galimore is the only U.S. member of the International Gymnastics Federation executive committee, and at the recent world gymnastics championships in Doha was among those distributing medals.
“Why is Ron Galimore (someone who covered up Nassar’s abuse) allowed to have the honor of handing out medals at world championships? What an awful message this sends to athletes,” she tweeted on Nov. 2.
Raisman has noted that the mass of resignations from USA Gymnastics due to the sexual abuse scandal — the top leadership of its board, two CEOs, and the development training coordinator — are important steps toward rebuilding the organization, but don’t provide any answers for survivors who still want to know how and why Nassar’s abuse was allowed to continue for years.
“USA Gymnastics has not been transparent at all,” she told TIME last month. “There have been so many resignations, and no answers.”
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The second section of the timber roof at the Olympics Gymnastics Center in Tokyo was raised on Wednesday, marking the halfway point of the construction of the temporary venue.
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The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) took the first step Monday that could lead to decertifying USA Gymnastics and revoking the organization’s status as America’s representative for gymnasts in national and international competition.
Gymnasts – including Olympian Aly Raisman – have called on the USOC to take action against USA Gymnastics in the wake of repeated scandals following revelations that it failed to act on initial reports of sexual abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar. TIME reported last week on what it would take to decertify USA Gymnastics.
Sarah Hirshland, chief executive officer of the USOC, filed a complaint about USA Gymnastics to the USOC board. Once a complaint is brought to the USOC board, a hearing will be held including, in this case, members of USA Gymnastics and the athletes’ advisory council. The panel would then make a recommendation about whether to revoke recognition as gymnastics’ governing body. If another organization were to come forward to be recognized by the USOC, it would need a different name and would have to adhere to the bylaws of the USOC and start to gain membership of local gyms. If an alternate organization is not available to take over for USA Gymnastics, then gymnasts would temporarily compete under the umbrella of the USOC.
“I believe this is a significant step forward that is necessary for the overall health and well-being of the sport and its athletes,” Raisman tweeted in response to USOC’s action. “There are so many amazing, talented and kind-hearted people in this sport, and it’s time for them to lead us into the future!”
In an open letter to the gymnastics community, Hirshland did not provide a timeline for how long the process would take, but the current gymnastics season is on hiatus after the world championships last week in Doho, Qatar. The U.S. women won the team title and Simone Biles earned a record fourth world championship gold in the individual all-around event.
Hirshland’s decision was prompted by an ongoing sexual abuse scandal at USA Gymnastics involving Nassar, who is serving up to 175 years in prison on sexual abuse charges. According to documents obtained by the Indianapolis Star, USA Gymnastics was alerted to Nassar’s abuse, which gymnasts say occurred at national training camps and at international competitions, but did not act in a timely manner to remove Nassar from his position.
There is also evidence that members of USA Gymnastics worked to devise a cover story to explain Nassar’s absence when he was finally asked not to attend competitions in 2015.
USA Gymnastics said it was “carefully reviewing” the complaint made by the USOC – and said the current board “inherited an organization in crisis with significant challenges that were years in the making.”
“The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) issued a letter today to USA Gymnastics initiating actions pursuant to Article 8 of its bylaws, which could ultimately result in the de-recognition of USA Gymnastics as a National Governing Body (NGB). This action is in accordance with their bylaws, which grant the USOC the power to review all matters relating to the continued recognition of an NGB. USA Gymnastics is carefully reviewing the contents of this letter and is evaluating the best path forward for our athletes, professional members, the organization and staff.
USA Gymnastics’ board was seated in June 2018 and inherited an organization in crisis with significant challenges that were years in the making. In the four months since, the Board has done everything it could to move this organization towards a better future. We immediately took steps to change the leadership and are currently conducting a search to find a CEO who can rebuild the organization and, most importantly, regain the trust of the gymnastics community. Substantial work remains — in particular, working with the plaintiffs and USA Gymnastics’ insurers to resolve the ongoing litigation as quickly as possible. We will continue to prioritize our athletes’ health and safety and focus on acting in the best interests of the greater gymnastics community.”
Read USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland’s letter to the gymnastics community in its entirety:
To all USAG gymnasts and the gymnastics community in the United States:
You began your journey in the sport of gymnastics for dozens of different reasons, but all of them trace back to gymnastics, and sport, being a positive influence in your life. It is supposed to be fun, to challenge you, and to teach you lessons about dedication, teamwork, excellence and overcoming adversity.
And while each of you has overcome adversity in different ways, some facing unimaginably terrible situations, everyone now faces the difficult reality of belonging to a national organization that continues to struggle to change its culture, to rebuild its leadership and to effectively serve its membership.
You deserve better.
So today I’m writing to let you know that the United States Olympic Committee has taken the first steps to revoke USA Gymnastics’ recognition as the National Governing Body for gymnastics in the United States and offered USA Gymnastics the option of surrendering its recognition voluntarily.
You might be asking why now? The short answer is that we believe the challenges facing the organization are simply more than it is capable of overcoming in its current form. We have worked closely with the new USAG board over recent months to support them, but despite diligent effort, the NGB continues to struggle. And that’s not fair to gymnasts around the country. Even weeks ago, I hoped there was a different way forward. But we now believe that is no longer possible.
You should know that revocation is subject to a process clearly outlined in the USOC Bylaws, and that process does not guarantee a particular outcome.
You’re no doubt wondering what this means for you and the gymnastics community. Until the process is completed and a final determination on USAG’s status is made, we will work to ensure that gymnastics training and competitions will continue as usual. I do not know how long the process will take, and we will make every effort to proceed quickly.
So I don’t have a perfect answer today. This is a situation in which there are no perfect solutions. Seeking to revoke recognition is not a decision that we have come to easily, but I believe it is the right action. In the short-term, we will work to ensure that America’s gymnasts have the support necessary to excel on and off the field of play. We are building plans to do just that no matter the outcome of the revocation process.
In the long-term, it will be the critically important responsibility of the recognized Gymnastics NGB, whether the existing organization or a new one, to lead gymnastics in the United States and rebuild a supportive community of athletes and clubs that can carry the sport forward for decades to come. We are prepared to identify and help build such an organization.
So, what’s next?
Strictly speaking, there is a process that must be followed based on the USOC Bylaws that lay out how we recognize, and revoke recognition, for an NGB. We have filed a complaint. A review panel will be identified, a hearing will be held, a report will be issued and a recommendation will be made. Then the USOC board will vote to continue to recognize USAG, or to revoke that status.
But that doesn’t really answer the meat of the question. You need to know what happens to gymnasts and your clubs if USA Gymnastics’ membership is revoked by the USOC. We are developing both a short- and longer-term plan and will communicate it as soon as we can.
The clearest answer I can provide is that gymnastics as a sport will remain a bedrock for the Olympic community in the United States. Young people will continue to participate, refine their techniques and have fun. Our Team USA athletes will continue to inspire us through their incredible accomplishments. We will ensure support for the Olympic hopefuls who may represent us in Tokyo in 2020.
And, over time, gymnastics clubs around the country may become members of a new organization that lives up to the expectations of the athletes and those that support them, their parents included. This would take time and a lot of hard work from many of us, and many of you. I know that collectively, we are up to the task should that assignment be given at the outcome of this process.
Today is only the beginning of an important process for gymnastics in the United States. The path is not crystal clear, but our motives are. So, we move forward, committed to ensuring the type of organization each gymnast and the coaches, trainers and club owners who support them, deserves.
Thank you for your support, and your contributions, as we collectively chart our path forward. And please don’t hesitate to contact me directly with your ideas and suggestions. I have set up an email address where you can reach me and my team. It is email@example.com.
ENTERTAINMENT DEAL UPDATE:
The U.S. women’s gymnastics team enters the world championships in Doha, Qatar, this month as the defending team champions. American women have dominated the top of the podium at the last three championships, and five-time Olympic medalist Simone Biles is competing for her fourth all-around individual world championship title. She also qualified in all six events at the championships, and if she earns gold in each of them, could become only the second female gymnast to sweep all of the titles at a single meet since the 1980s.
But USA Gymnastics, the national federation for gymnasts for which she competes, is mired in one of the worst sexual abuse scandals in sports history. And its response to the revelations that team doctor Larry Nassar abused hundreds of athletes, including Biles, has prompted many leading many gymnasts to call for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to decertify USA Gymnastics, or at least remove everyone associated with the organization during Nassar’s years of abuse, and start all over.
“Enough is enough,” Aly Raisman, who was among the first Olympic team members to reveal she was abused by Nassar, tells TIME. She says the board of USA Gymnastics has been making “mistakes over and over again. And I think we have given them enough time. We can’t wait any more. It’s not right.”
Those calls grew louder last week after Steve Penny, the organization’s former president, was arrested on vacation with his family following an indictment for tampering with evidence relating to the Nassar scandal. His attorney said Penny was not aware of the warrant and is confident that his actions were not criminal.
Then, Mary Bono, the second person appointed to replace Penny, resigned after less than a week when it was revealed that her law firm represented USA Gymnastics and reportedly helped to provide a cover story for explaining Nassar’s absence after initial reports of his abuse. She also faced criticism from athletes including Biles for a now-deleted tweet from September in which Bono covered a Nike logo on her golf shoes in response to Colin Kaepernick’s Nike ad.
USA Gymnastics did not respond to requests for comment, although it did issue a statement regarding Penny’s arrest that said the organization “support[s] law enforcement’s efforts and [that it has] fully cooperated with the investigations by the Texas Rangers, Congress and others and will continue to do so to help the survivors and our community heal from this tragedy.” In announcing Bono’s departure, the USA Gymnastics board said in a statement that it was “in the best interest of the organization.”
In addition, USA Gymnastics refuses to settle any of the numerous lawsuits it faces from gymnasts including Raisman and Olympic teammates McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber, all of whom were abused by Nassar and say that the organization failed to protect them by allowing him to continue to serve as national team doctor, even after receiving reports of his abuse.
“I was always concerned about how this was handled by USA Gymnastics, but now I feel it’s really dangerous,” Raisman says. “USA Gymnastics has not been transparent at all. There have been so many resignations, and no answers. They won’t release anything, which is making me more nervous about what else they are hiding.”
It’s now clear that the U.S. women’s gymnastics team’s dominance at world and Olympic competitions in recent decades came at a price. The entire five-woman 2012 Olympic team and four of the five-member 2016 team have revealed that they were sexually abused by Nassar, an osteopathic doctor. Over a period of more than a decade, he abused more than three hundred athletes under the guise of medical treatments. According to his victims, the abuse occurred at his office at Michigan State University where he was on the faculty, in hotel rooms during competitions and at the national training center at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas. Nassar is currently serving up to 175 years in prison for his crimes.
The USOC currently recognizes national governing bodies for sports like gymnastics, and that means USA Gymnastics adheres to bylaws established by the Olympic Committee concerning proper conduct of athletes and coaches, and compliance with its policies, which include anti-doping rules. USA Gymnastics also receives funding from the USOC to support the elite competition teams that represent the U.S. at world and Olympic events. Perhaps most importantly, many international sports federations that put on competitions such as world championships and oversee participation at the Olympics require national federations like the USOC to sponsor teams from their respective countries.
For USA Gymnastics to be decertified, a complaint would have to be filed by the CEO of the USOC. Once a complaint is brought to the USOC board, a hearing would be held including, in this case, members of USA Gymnastics and the athletes’ advisory council. The panel would then make a recommendation about whether to revoke recognition as gymnastics’ governing body. If another organization were to come forward to be recognized by the USOC, it would need a different name and would have to adhere to the bylaws of the USOC and start to gain membership of local gyms. If an alternate organization is not available to take over for USA Gymnastics, then gymnasts would temporarily compete under the umbrella of the USOC. However, if the USOC decertifies USA Gymnastics, it’s not clear whether the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) would recognize American gymnasts at international competitions.
While unusual, there is precedent for decertification. The national governing bodies for taekwondo and team handball were decertified, and new organizations were created to replace them. In taekwondo’s case, the prior organization failed to address financial problems after USOC audits, and in team handball’s situation, USOC felt the existing management was not fulfilling its obligation to grow and populate the sport adequately.
The USOC did threaten USA Gymnastics with decertification, after it learned that Penny had waited five weeks before reporting reports of sexual abuse by Nassar to law enforcement. That led to Penny’s resignation, as well as the resignation of three top board members. But many survivors, including Raisman, want transparency from USA Gymnastics, including an explanation for why Nassar was allowed to continue to abuse gymnasts even after complaints about him were provided to its leadership, as well as explanations for the recent series of resignations.
“This is bigger than one abuser,” Raisman says. “It’s the leadership at USA Gymnastics that is creating this disaster.”
Raisman isn’t sure if decertification is the best option, but says something must be done to fundamentally change USA Gymnastics.
Nassar is in prison for his crimes, Penny resigned and the top three members of the USA Gymnastics board also stepped down. But, Raisman says, not much has actually changed at the organization. It has not acknowledged the scandal nor taken responsibility for what happened to hundreds of gymnasts who trusted that the governing body would have their best interests in mind and keep them safe.
“Some of the same leaders who were there [while Nassar was the team doctor] are still there. The old influence, the bad influence that created the problem, is still there,” she says. “They didn’t listen to anything we said; they never did and still are not doing it.”
In its statement announcing Bono’s departure, USA Gymnastics said it “remain[s] steadfast in our efforts to fundamentally transform the organization at all levels to ensure athlete safety and well-being is at the heart of everything we do…While we have made progress, we have much more work to do. This board is determined to take the necessary steps to support a safe, inclusive and competitive environment where all our athletes and members can grow, have fun and achieve their goals.”
Since the survivors came forward en masse to provide victim impact statements at Nassar’s sentencing hearing in January, Kerry Perry, who was the first president appointed to succeed Penny, was called before Congress to explain how Nassar was allowed to abuse gymnasts for years, despite reports to the organization that he was a sexual predator. Rather than providing an explanation, however, she redirected the focus to her intention to “make sure we’re focusing our organization on athlete safety.” Perry resigned in September after nine months leading USA Gymnastics.
The board then appointed Mary Lee Tracy as development coordinator to oversee training for gymnasts working toward making the elite world and Olympic teams. In December 2016, Tracy had defended Nassar, calling him “amazing” although he had been charged with child sexual abuse and indicted on federal child pornography charges days before. Tracy defended her description, saying she was only referring to her own experience with Nassar and that her comments had “absolutely nothing to do with … the survivors.” When Raisman tweeted that Tracy’s appointment was a “disappointment,” Tracy attempted to reach out to the Olympian and was asked by USA Gymnastics to resign three days into the job.
“I wonder how many more times does somebody have to do something harmful that hurts, actually hurts children and affects them in potentially life-threatening ways before somebody does something?” says Jessica Howard, a rhythmic gymnast who was abused by Nassar. “It hurts me as a victim; it’s a gut punch every single time.”
Howard says that the constant poor leadership decisions and resignations, and the arrest of Penny, are only perpetuating the pain and frustration for survivors. The message from USA Gymnastics, Howard says, is that athletes’ interests are still not the top priority for the organization. “I thought, this can’t be real,” says Howard when she read about the board’s decision to appoint Bono as interim president and CEO. “Maybe I’m having a dream — I actually thought that maybe I was having a dream. They cannot be this oblivious. It’s like screaming fire and nobody comes, and there are people in the building.”
Part of the problem, say many survivors, is that the organization has failed to take responsibility for the scandal and in doing so, damaged its reputation. “No one with any integrity is willing to take the position of leadership at USA Gymnastics,” says Rachel Denhollander, who was the first to identify herself as a victim of Nassar. “For two and a half years [USA Gymnastics] has consistently demonstrated that they have no desire to do the right thing.”
For one, she and others point to the fact that Ron Galimore continues in his position as chief operating officer at USA Gymnastics. According to email exchanges in the summer of 2015 that were obtained by the Indianapolis Star, an attorney from Bono’s firm suggested that Galimore be tasked with telling the USA Gymnastics’ medical team that Nassar was absent from competitions because he wasn’t feeling well – rather than informing them that Nassar was under investigation for sexual misconduct. USA Gymnastics did not respond to a request for comment on Galimore and his alleged involvement in the Nassar scandal.
“What people need to understand is that this is not a Larry problem — Larry is a symptom of a USA Gymnastics problem,” says Denhollander. “And they have not taken care of the root problem; they have only taken care of one of the symptoms.”
USA Gymnastics cites its adoption of SafeSport policies, created by the USOC’s U.S. Center for SafeSport. It’s meant to be an independent body that can investigate allegations of sexual misconduct, but many athletes feel that isn’t enough. Raisman, for one, advocates creating an entirely independent body — not affiliated with the USOC or its various sports governing bodies — to which athletes can turn for support and safety. She is working with Darkness to Light, a non-profit that provides education to adults to help them recognize signs of childhood sexual abuse, and wants to come up with other potential solutions for keeping athletes safe not just in gymnastics but all sports. “I never imagined it would get this bad,” she says.
Denhollander is hoping that Congress, which passed the Amateur Sports Act that created the USOC oversees the national governing bodies for the various sports, will hold the USOC accountable in a more stringent way. “Congress has to act to make a difference,” she says. “There is no way forward otherwise with this organization. Until all of those people who participated in the abusive culture that led to the worst scandal in recorded or Olympic history are gone, things are not going to be done differently. That’s the reason the current board is continually making the wrong choices. It’s not an accident.”
In the absence of more positive action from USA Gymnastics, the USOC, or Congress, Raisman feels an urgency to become an advocate for change herself, especially with the next Olympic Games only two years away. “I think about them a lot,” says Raisman of the gymnasts competing at the world championships in Doha, who are aiming to make the Olympic team in two years. “When I was training for the Olympics and realized what was happening [with the way complaints against Nassar were handled] was wrong, it was hard to work for an organization that I knew was very corrupt. And now with everything that has come out, it’s way worse than I ever imagined it would be. But it’s not the survivors’ fault. It’s the organization’s fault. The moment they realized something was wrong, if they had handled it the right way, and reported it, this wouldn’t be a problem right now. I’m trying to brainstorm ideas,” she says. “We owe it to the sport. The sport deserves much better.”
ENTERTAINMENT DEAL UPDATE:
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Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman spoke out against the new interim president and CEO of USA Gymnastics Monday.
In a series of tweets, Raisman criticized USA Gymnastics for hiring Mary Bono, a former Republican congresswoman from California who was appointed Friday as interim head. Bono previously worked for Faegre Baker Daniels, a law firm that represented USA Gymnastics in 2015 in its initial investigation of Larry Nassar, the disgraced former team doctor currently serving federal and state prison sentences on child pornography and sexual assault charges.
Raisman said Faegre Baker Daniels was aware that gymnasts had reported Nassar’s abuse in 2015. USA Gymnastics has said it first learned about “athlete concerns” against Nassar in 2015, and that it hired the law firm to look into the initial claims, the Indianapolis Star reports.
“My teammates and I reported Nassar’s abuse to USAG in 2015. We now know USOC & lawyers at Faegre Baker Daniels (Mary Bono’s firm) were also told then, yet Nassar continued to abuse children for 13 months!?” Raisman wrote. “Why hire someone associated with the firm that helped cover up our abuse?”
USA Gymnastics said it cut ties with Nassar in the summer of 2015, according to a timeline by the Indianapolis Star about the former doctor. Michigan State University, where Nassar was a faculty member, fired the doctor in Sept. 2016. NBC News reports Nassar allegedly abused several women between the time USA Gymnastics received its first alert in 2015 and 2016, when accusations against him became public. More than 200 women have accused Nassar of sexually assaulting them while he worked for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.
Faegre Baker Daniels rebuked Raisman’s claim that the firm covered up abuse.
“It is a matter of public record that a FaegreBD lawyer participated in reporting Larry Nassar to the FBI in the summer of 2015 — a fact that refutes any claim of a cover up,” read a statement from the firm to TIME. “We are bound by our obligation of client confidentiality, and thus we cannot comment further at this time.”
The USA Gymnastics Board of Directors said in a statement to TIME that Bono’s work for the firm was not related to the 2015 investigation. Bono did not immediately offer comment.
“Mary Bono worked at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, the legislative strategies and policies branch in Washington, DC.,” the board’s statement said. “Faegre Baker Daniels is a large, global firm that has a number of divisions and areas, and Mary was not involved in FBD’s work with USA Gymnastics as counsel of record.”
Raisman was not the only person to speak out against Bono’s hiring. Kaylee Lorincz, Nassar accuser, also said he continued to abuse girls in 2016, after Faegre Baker Daniels would have become aware of what he was doing.
Bono also became the subject of controversy over the weekend after it emerged that she had criticized Nike on Twitter. In response to the company making Colin Kaepernick the face of a new advertising campaign, Bono posted a photo of her coloring over the Nike swoosh on her sneakers.
Olympic champion Simone Biles, who is sponsored by Nike, quote-tweeted Bono’s picture and wrote, “Don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter USA gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.”
Bono has since deleted her original tweet.
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Olympic champion Simone Biles is upset about an anti-Nike tweet from USA Gymnastics interim president and CEO Mary Bono.
Bono was appointed Friday to hold the position while USA Gymnastics searches for a permanent successor to Kerry Perry, who resigned under pressure from the United States Olympic Committee in September after spending nine months on the job.
Biles responded Saturday to a tweet from Bono last month criticizing Nike following the release of its advertising campaign featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Bono, a former Republican congresswoman, had posted a photo of herself drawing over a Nike logo on a golf shoe.
Biles quote-tweeted Bono’s photo and wrote: “(asterisk)mouth drop(asterisk) don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.”
Bono deleted her tweet about five hours later, saying she regretted the post and respects “everyone’s views & fundamental right to express them.”
Nike is one of Biles’ sponsors.
Biles is among the more than 200 women who have come forward over the last two years claiming they were sexually abused by former team doctor Larry Nassar under the guise of treatment. Biles was critical of Perry for not being vocal enough in support of the survivors.
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