October 18, 2018; CNN
Yesterday, Steve Penny, the former head of USA Gymnastics (USAG), was arrested by a fugitive squad in Tennessee on charges that he ordered the removal of and subsequently hid documents linked to the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case from the Karolyi Ranch in Texas where elite gymnasts trained. He faces up to 10 years in prison for tampering with evidence. Coaches Martha and Bela Karolyi run the facility, which became US Women’s National Team Training Center in 2001 and US Olympic Training Site in 2011, but they are not criminally implicated in this investigation.
Nassar, already convicted of 10 counts of abuse and sentenced to a maximum of 175 years in prison, faces an additional six counts of sexual assault of a child at the ranch.
Penny resigned his post as USA Gymnastics president and chief executive officer last year after 12 years in the position, but he has steadfastly refused to answer questions about the situation, invoking the Fifth Amendment when he appeared in front of a Senate hearing.
Meanwhile, Kerry Perry, who replaced Penny, resigned the organization after only nine months, and her replacement, former US Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA) has recently stepped down after less than a week at the helm. Gymnasts, who in the absence of an accountable body have taken to publicly monitoring the decisions and actions of USAG, criticized Helm’s appointment—in part because her law firm represented USA Gymnastics during the Nassar scandal. But there were plenty of other issues, as ABC News reports:
In her statement, Bono said her “withdrawal comes in the wake of personal attacks that, left undefended, would have made my leading USAG a liability for the organization.”
That’s in response to Olympic gold-medalist Simone Biles calling out Bono for tweeting a photo that showed her defacing a pair of Nike shoes. Bono posted that tweet after Nike unveiled its new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.
Nike is also a sponsor of Biles, who sarcastically posted to Twitter, “Don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter USA gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.” Bono has since deleted the tweet and apologized.
Other key staff, including elite development coordinator Mary Lee Tracy and the head of its women’s program, Rhonda Faehn, have also resigned or been terminated.
The women who testified at the Nassar hearing have become a powerful public accountability committee for USAG. At some point, maybe the organization will realize that its governance and leadership are no longer solely up to the board as currently constituted, and it will do the clean sweep that has been requested over and over.
We have covered other stakeholder revolts at NPQ, including those at Sweet Briar College and at the San Diego Opera.—Ruth McCambridge