March 16, 2017
USA Gymnastics Head on the Hot Seat
Look back at nearly every Summer Olympics in a generation. Who’s the hero for the United States? With the possible exception of the “Dream Team” basketball squad and swimmer Michael Phelps, it’s been the gymnastics team. USA Gymnastics not only maintains a massive national fan base, it dominates headlines during the Games and creates overnight sensation superstars, especially out of scrappy young women who captivate our senses and wow us with incredible athleticism and courage each and every Olympiad.
But now, USA Gymnastics is in the news for a very different reason. Thanks to a string of sex-abuse cases, the US Olympic Committee is recommending that USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny resign. This is according to a report in the Associated Press that quoted a source that requested anonymity due to his or her closeness to the situation and the “sensitivity of the discussion.”
The USOC has not yet gone public with its recommendation, however, they did discuss the matter at their recent quarterly meeting. Chairman Paul Parilla said the board was planning to meet again to discuss “next steps,” but it’s not too difficult to read between the lines.
According to the AP, Penny is a co-defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, who said volunteer team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused her. USA Gymnastics has denied any wrongdoing in the matter, but this, apparently, has not stopped the USOC from taking action. No word yet on whether or not the USOC sees fire where some say there’s smoke, and that’s why Penny is being asked to resign … or if he’s just the scapegoat to avoid any further nasty PR issues.
Parilla did assert that, “USAG shares the USOC’s commitment to promoting a safe environment for all athletes, and we take its views seriously…”
That said, USOC can’t officially send Penny packing. They don’t have the power to do that, and, at least so far, Penny enjoys the support of the USA Gymnastics Board. Currently, there is no deadline for USAG to act on the USOC’s recommendation, so there’s no real danger to the millions in grant money USOC gives USAG annually.
And, looking deeper, it might be considered an odd choice to send Penny off. He’s been president of USAG since 2005, during which the USA’s women’s team has, in a word, dominated the world in the gym. Four all-around champions and two team golds … that’s a pretty good resume.
But there has been a dark cloud hanging over all that success. Multiple accusations of sexual abuse against various coaches and the team doctor, leading to in-depth media investigations and at least one civil lawsuit. These allegations and investigations have certainly left USAG with a black eye, and people who want answers … not to mention more than few that want at least one head to roll, regardless of the outcome of the investigations and the lawsuit.