With the sentencing of admitted child molester Larry Nassar expected to end this week in what will effectively be a life sentence, USA Gymnastics will find its own responsibility replacing Nassar at center stage. Three of its board officers apparently came to that belated realization today, offering their resignations. Perhaps the most surprising part of this story was that they were still around at all:
Three leaders of USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the Olympic sport, resigned under pressure Monday after months of criticism stemming from the sex-abuse scandal over former team doctor Larry Nassar.
Board of directors Chairman Paul Parilla, Vice Chairman Jay Binder and Treasurer Bitsy Kelley stepped down nearly 10 months after former president and chief executive Steve Penny was pushed out. …
The organization, which selects the national and Olympic teams, was accused of trying to keep a lid on the scandal, waiting five weeks to alert the FBI to a gymnast’s complaint, failing to notify Michigan State University that one of its doctors had been accused, and having Maroney sign a secrecy agreement as part of a settlement.
That may have been the biggest catalyst for the resignations. The decision to bind a victim to silence was a bizarre choice, no matter whose idea it initially was (USAG claims it was Maroney who required the NDA). However, the decision to continue to use the Karolyi Ranch facility where years of abuse took place was just as strange, one that USAG took its sweet time in reversing until Thursday:
USA Gymnastics is ending its long relationship with the Karolyi Ranch.
The organization announced Thursday that it has terminated its agreement to have the ranch outside of Huntsville, Texas, serve as the National Training Center. The decision came three days after Olympic champion Simone Biles expressed dismay at having to attend camps there, where Biles says she was sexually abused by a former national team doctor.
The ranch is the home of former national team coordinator Martha Karolyi and her husband, Bela. USA Gymnastics initially agreed to buy the training facility in August 2016 then backed out of the agreement following an investigation into sexual abuse by former national team doctor Larry Nassar.
Even from a strict public-relations perspective, the board’s performance has been nothing short of catastrophic. No one apparently gave much thought to the idea that the same women who would testify in Nassar’s sentencing would also have a very big platform to object to having to return to the scene of the crimes to compete for spots on the national team. Only after the athletes made a point of objecting to the venue on social media did they cancel the training camp scheduled for later this month:
“We are exploring alternative sites to host training activities and camps until a permanent location is determined,” Perry said. “We thank all those in the gymnastics community assisting in these efforts.” …
More recently, Aly Raisman and Simone Biles, heavily decorated gymnasts, have said the athletes shouldn’t have to return to the ranch.
“It breaks my heart even more to think that as I work toward my dream of competing in Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” Biles wrote on social media.
Couldn’t the board have anticipated that issue say, oh, a year ago? Did they even bother to ask Nassar’s victims — who made it clear that sexual molestation and assault occurred regularly at Karolyi Ranch — whether they would prefer a new venue, at least for the time being? This seems indicative of the USAG board’s approach under the now-departed leadership — a laser-like focus on their own interests, and not much focus on anything else.
That won’t be the only board on which attention will fall after Nassar gets packed off to prison. Michigan State University’s trustees declared their unanimous support for current president Lou Anna Simon in the wake of the Nassar case, but trustee Mitch Lyons says a change of leadership is necessary at the school as well:
A member of the Michigan State Board of Trustees says he believes university president Lou Anna Simon must resign in order to help the school move on from the damage done by convicted sexual predator Larry Nassar.
Trustee Mitch Lyons made the comments Saturday night, a day after the eight-member board publicly backed Simon in the wake of calls for her resignation due to how her administration handled the fallout from Nassar, the disgraced former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor.
“I do not agree with our statement of support for President Simon,” Lyons said. “As I expressed repeatedly to fellow board members during our discussion Friday, I don’t feel that President Simon can survive the public outcry that has been generated by this tragedy and even less so after hearing the testimony of these brave survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse. I feel that our best recourse is for President Simon to resign immediately.”
Michigan lawmakers have also begun to call for Simon’s resignation. The school doesn’t have many good answers for their lack of intervention with Nassar, having fielded at least eight complaints about sexual molestation starting twenty years ago. Simon was apprised of a complaint about an unnamed doctor in 2014 which turned out to be Nassar, but didn’t pursue it very vigorously, if at all. Last week, an angry athlete confronted Simon in the corridor outside the courtroom, and MSU’s board of trustees have to wonder just how much more of that kind of bad publicity Simon is worth.