By Daniel Etchells |
Mary Bono has announced she is stepping down as USA Gymnastics’ interim President and chief executive just four days after taking up the role.
It follows tweets by four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles and other gymnasts in which they questioned the appointment of Bono.
Her resignation marks the latest crisis to strike the problem-ridden national governing body.
“It is with profound regret, coupled with a deep love for the sport of gymnastics and respect for those who aspire to be great gymnasts, that I today tendered my resignation as the interim chief executive of USA Gymnastics,” Bono said in a statement.
“My withdrawal comes in the wake of personal attacks that, left undefended, would have made my leading USAG a liability for the organization.”
USA Gymnastics’ Board of Directors said in a statement that it accepted Bono’s resignation in the “best interest of the organization,” despite her commitment to the sport of gymnastics and helping the organization move forward.
“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,” the statement adds.
“While we continue the search for a permanent President and chief executive and are currently seeking input from key stakeholders on that search, we remain steadfast in our efforts to fundamentally transform the organisation at all levels to ensure athlete safety and well-being is at the heart of everything we do.
“We are also committed to making sure that the focus remains on the athletes – including this week as our men and women head to Doha to compete in the World Championships.
“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.”
Bono previously worked for law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, which represented USA Gymnastics and its former team doctor Larry Nassar during the much-publicized sexual abuse scandal.
Nassar is currently serving a jail term of up to 175 years after charges of abuse against hundreds of athletes, including Aly Raisman, a team all-around gold medalist at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics.
In a series of tweets published yesterday, Raisman claimed how lawyers at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, although not Bono, and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) had been aware of abuse allegations against Nassar in 2015.
However, he was allowed to continue working.
“Clearly this is not a ‘new’ USAG,” Raisman wrote.
“Same corrupt decisions.
“Perhaps it’s because true accountability is less likely if authority is placed in the hands of someone similarly motivated to avoid it.”
Raisman, who also won the floor exercise gold medal at London 2012, added: “Survivors, current gymnasts, families, coaches, gymnastics community and fans deserve better.
“We can’t move forward until we know exactly what happened.
“USAG take accountability, be transparent, release all your documents and data.
“PLEASE tell the truth.
“This is so devastating.”
Responding to Bono’s resignation, USOC chief executive Sarah Hirshland insists the body knows that USA Gymnastics remains dedicated to the process of finding a new and permanent leader.
“The USOC is committed to working hard with the USAG Board to find the right leader who can build gymnastics up to the world-class organisation we know that it can and should be,” she said in a statement.
“Both the USOC staff and myself will continue to work closely with USAG in both the short and long term as they search for a new leader.
“The well-being of Team USA athletes is our top priority as we manage this process.”
Olympians Rising, who describe themselves as a group of Olympians and friends that are “disgusted” with the negligence of the USOC, had also criticized the move to appoint Bono.
“The ‘Honorable’ Mary Bono, widow of deceased Congressman Sonny Bono, was – surprise, surprise, most recently a lobbyist at the notorious law firm Baker Daniels,” the organization says in a statement.
“That very law firm has for decades represented USA Gymnastics, and advised them on scorched-earth tactics of retaliation vs. athletes and families alleging sexual abuse by Larry Nassar and other criminals.”
Bono found herself embroiled in scandal just a day after being appointed to her new role, after a tweet emerged of her criticizing sports clothing brand Nike.
The tweet, which she posted last month but has since been deleted, shows her blacking out the Nike logo on a pair of golf shoes before playing in a charity event.
It came at a time when people were burning or destroying their Nike clothing in protest against the company’s support of National Football League player Colin Kaepernick, who sparked a national debate in 2016 for repeatedly kneeling during the national anthem before games.
Critics of Kaepernick said his actions were disrespectful to military personnel who have died for the country.
But Kaepernick, who appeared in a Nike advert, said he was merely trying to highlight what he sees as institutionalized racism against African Americans.
Bono’s tweet was spotted by American superstar Biles, a black athlete, who clearly expressed her displeasure.
“Mouth drop,” she tweeted.
“Don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter USA Gymnastics President or any sponsors or anything.”
Biles is a Nike-sponsored athlete and the national governing body lost a number of its primary sponsors during the fall-out over Nassar.
The sexual abuse scandal led to fierce criticism of both USA Gymnastics and the USOC over what they knew and when, and whether they could have prevented the abuse, with the previous chief executive Kerry Perry resigning just nine months after taking the role.
Many had questioned whether Bono would listen to athletes’ concerns if she is willing to dismiss Kaepernick’s protests.
In a statement on Saturday (October 13), Bono said she “respects everyone’s views and their fundamental right to express them.”
“This in no way reflects how I will approach my position at USA Gymnastics,” she added.
“I will do everything I can to help change the culture and to work with the entire community to build an open, safe and positive environment.”
The controversy is just the latest in a long line of issues that have arisen since the Nassar scandal.
The last two chief executives were both ousted amid doubts over the governing body’s sincerity in making necessary cultural changes.
Perry resigned amid criticism of her handling of the Nassar case.
Last month, Mary Lee Tracy was appointed as elite development coordinator for the women’s program but soon left after claims she had “supported Larry Nassar and victim-shamed survivors”.
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.