USA Gymnastics’ Road to “Complete Cultural Change” Hits Another Speed Bump

Kerry Perry
Kerry Perry testifying before Congress in May 2018. Photo Courtesy of npr.org

In the ongoing effort to improve its image and restore confidence in the organization, USA Gymnastics has hit another bump.  Earlier this week, it was announced that Kerry Perry, the newly-appointed CEO of USA Gymnastics, would be resigning under pressure from the organization and the gymnastics community.  Perry had been brought in as previous CEO Steve Penny’s replacement just nine months ago in order to revamp the organization in the wake of the MSU/Larry Nassar scandal.

USAG needed new leadership, new management, and new faces to pave the way for improved policies and a “complete cultural change.”  In December, 2017, Perry was brought on despite the fact that she had no experience with gymnastics or the Olympics.  This, in and of itself, shows USAG’s failure to take this process seriously.  And Perry did not step up to the plate.

Former U.S. Attorney and U.S. Assistant Attorney General, Deborah Daniels, conducted a 6-month investigation of USA Gymnastics which in June, 2017, resulted in a 100-page report, consisting of 70 recommendations to be implemented for the organization to remain certified by the US Olympic Committee.  The board of directors agreed to all 70 recommendations before the USOC forced all board members to resign.  More than a year later, Perry and the new board have only implemented 33 of Daniels’ recommendations.  This was just one of Perry’s many missteps.

Though she began her short tenure with a promise of transparency, Perry spent more than half of her 9-month stint in complete silence, with no statements to the public for 5 months, even as countless victims recounted their abuses at the hands of Nassar and he  was handed his de facto life sentence.  The victims, their families, the USOC, and the gymnastics community as a whole no doubt deserved assurances that these types of abuses would never happen again and that USAG was moving in the right direction.  Perry offered just about nothing of the sort.

During a May 2018 congressional hearing on sexual abuse in Olympic sports, Perry put forth a lackluster effort.  Upon questioning, she had little to say about USAG’s response to Nassar’s survivors or how USAG had handled complaints of sexual abuse in the past.

What seems to have been the final straw were the events that followed Perry’s promotion of coach Mary Lee Tracy to elite development coordinator.  Given that Tracy has previously defended Nassar, her promotion was a clear sign that Perry and USAG were not concerned with doing what was necessary to guarantee the safety of its member athletes.  This led to an uproar from some of the sport’s most recognizable names, including Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman, one of the almost 350 Nassar victims.  The optics of this are bad enough, but upon her promotion, Tracy attempted to contact Raisman in an effort to apologize, “work together to make our sport better and learn from all the mistakes of the past.”  Raisman is currently suing USA Gymnastics for its handling of the abuse scandal, so Tracy reaching out to her was a clear no-no.  USAG took swift action, requiring Tracy to resign.  Seemingly, the organization had no issue with the promotion of someone who defended a monster like Nassar.  Instead, it appears that Tracy’s resignation was the result of her reaching out to Raisman.  Five days after she did so, amidst mounting pressure, Perry was forced to resign.

Aly Raisman’s lawsuit is one of dozens that have been lodged against USA Gymnastics in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.  USAG likely forced Mary Lee Tracy to resign because her actions could have legal implications in Raisman’s case.  Perry’s resignation, however, seems to be an effort to improve USAG’s image and retain the organization’s certification by the US Olympic Committee.

On the issue of sexual abuse in gymnastics, fingers have been pointed in every direction during the past few years.  Just 2 days ago, the Justice Department announced it is investigating the FBI’s handling of complaints against Nassar.  There have also been investigations of the famous Karolyi ranch, 2 congressional investigations, and investigations of MSU’s handling of Nassar.  This just goes to show that the organizations involved in gymnastics in this country refuse to take full accountability for the abuses that countless athletes have experienced in the past and still experience today.

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