The world’s no. 1 women’s gymnastics team is now part of a worldwide laughing stock as Mary Bono, hired as the interim Chief Executive of USA Gymnastics last Friday (12th), resigned on Tuesday.
The seven-term California representative was herself a gymnast in her youth, but her appointment by the USA Gymnastics Board was met with immediate criticism by Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and Aly Raisman (more here) for her criticism of former NFL quarterback and now social activist Colin Kaepernick in a tweet, and for her association with the Faegre Baker Daniels law firm that is blamed in part for not acting properly after being notified of the sexual abuse being perpetrated by team medical director Larry Nassar.
“My withdrawal comes in the wake of personal attacks that, left undefended, would have made leading USAG a liability for the organization,” wrote Bono in a statement that appeared on Twitter.
For its part, the USA Gymnastics Board released its own statement, noting “The USA Gymnastics Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Mary Bono as interim president and CEO. Despite her commitment to the sport of gymnastics and helping the organization move forward, we believe this is in the best interest of the organization. We, as a Board, are committed to taking action when we believe a change of course is necessary and to being responsive to our gymnastics community.”
Who in their right mind would take this job now? After all, the last three staff heads of the federation were:
∙ Steve Penny, from 2005-17, a time of great success for the women’s Artistic team, who won 23 Olympic medals in 2008-12-16 and of some success for the men, who won six in the same three Games.
He resigned in March 2017 as the Nassar scandal exploded and was excused from a U.S. Senate Commerce sub-committee hearing in June of this year, after exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
∙ Kerry Perry, with a long background in marketing, was hired to start 1 December 2017, but resigned on 4 September after a bad hire for the federation’s head of elite development and a general feeling that she was not taking enough action quickly enough.
∙ Mary Bono, in and out after four days.
The federation’s situation hasn’t changed a lot over the past year. It still faces a raft of lawsuits from survivors of the Nassar abuse and increased scrutiny from the U.S. Congress, now considering changes in the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act which created the current structure of Olympic sport in the United States.
Perry indicated in her Congressional testimony that the ongoing mediation regarding the litigation between the survivors and the federation was progressing. While the competitions continue – not just in Artistic Gymnastics, but also in Rhythmic, Trampoline, Tumbling and Acrobatic Gymnastics – so does the litigation, as well as a commissioned investigation by an outside law firm, Ropes & Gray, into the activity (or lack thereof) of the federation as well as the United States Olympic Committee.
Sponsors AT&T, Kellogg, Under Armour, Hershey’s and Proctor & Gamble have either suspended or ended their affiliations with USA Gymnastics as well.
The job is unattractive at best and the right fit is a temporary hire with a legal background who can settle the litigation, show progress in process and procedure to the gymnastics community, the USOC and the Congress and then hand off a more normal environment for a talented leader and marketer.
But that is not going to satisfy the star survivors like Biles, Raisman and the hundreds of others. That brings to mind the classic, revered comments of then-former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in his famed, “Citizenship in a Republic” speech at the Sorbonne in Paris in April 1910:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Roosevelt’s comments about men 108 years ago apply just as much to women in 2018. And that is the start of the short-term answer for USA Gymnastics.
Two-time U.S. Olympian and six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman has been the highest-profile and most voluble critic of USA Gymnastics. She filed suit last March against the federation and the USOC. At 24, she’s not currently active as a competitor, but she’s an adult and appears to have the confidence of other survivors. If she loves the sport as much as she insists, she should drop her lawsuits and demand to be appointed as the interim chief executive of USA Gymnastics.