A complete change in USA Gymnastics leadership is needed, starting with a new chair and a new board.
One hundred pages of words.
That is the response by the United States Gymnastics Association to the systemic abuse inflicted on hundreds of young athletes by rogue coaches, trainers and a trusted team doctor during more than two decades.
In response to a wave of investigative reports and a hearing by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, USAG released a 100-page booklet titled “Report to USA Gymnastics on Proposed Policy and Procedural Changes for the Protection of Young Athletes.”
The report is significant for what it says and even more significant for what it leaves out.
The report opens by stating, “In the past USA Gymnastics has taken a piecemeal and largely ineffective approach to abuse prevention…”
The report goes on to illuminate a litany of organizational failures and mismanagement including physical, emotional and sexual abuse of athletes, failure to remove banned coaches, failure to remove coaches with a history of physical, emotional and sexual abuse from member gyms and a policy that allowed sexual contact between adult coaches and minors and a grievance procedure that required victims of sexual abuse or assault to file written statements with the organization which often were not reported to law enforcement.
There is no attempt to hold the leadership of the organization accountable for these failures and no suggestion of a change in leadership is needed.
I served as an athlete representative to the USAG board for a number of years. As I stated in my testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, I spent years working on the United States Gymnastics Board of Directors with the mission of protecting children in my sport from the psychological abuse I endured. But the meeting seemed to revolve around two things: money and medals. When a sexual abuse case came up during my time on the board the concern was about the reputation of the coach and not the accusation of the athlete
Chairman Paul Parilla has held his office since 2005. He has been an officer or member of the board since 1999. Many other board members have also served very long terms.
During Parilla’s term of office, major scandals have erupted involving the abuse of child athletes. Investigative reports by the IndyStar and other publications have documented dozens of cases of abuse involving coaches, some convicted criminally of child sexual abuse but not banned by USA Gymnastics, that move from gym to gym continuing to abuse athletes.
The truly horrific scandal that led to the drafting of this report is the alleged serial molestation of young women and girls by former USAG and Olympic physician Larry Nassar. More than 125 women and girls have stepped forward to accuse Nassar of sexual abuse. I am one of those women. Nassar has been charged criminally in both state and federal courts for his action and is currently in jail awaiting trial.
Nassar’s name and the alleged abuse he inflicted on so many women is barely mentioned in the report, nor is the fact that Parilla, former President Steve Penny and many of the current board members presided over the culture of abuse that allowed Nasser to commit those alleged horrendous crimes.
The report sets forth a framework for creating a culture which contributes to abuse prevention and athlete safety. The very first element of this framework is a “strong voice from the top of the organization.” Parilla was silent during his two decades of leadership in USAG.
He refused to interrupt his vacation to appear at the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss proposed legislation to protect athletes from abuse. In sworn depositions, Parilla failed to answer basic questions about the organization’s failure to protect athletes and his failure to provide the “strong voice” that is needed to stop abuse.
The only action the board has taken against any responsible party was to demand the resignation of Penny, the long-time USA Gymnastics president. They only did so under pressure from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Now the same board that defended and enabled Penny has selected the search committee that will replace him. It is clear that the board intends to conduct business as usual.
A complete change in USAG leadership is needed, starting with a new chair and a new board. Without it, this report is nothing but empty words.
Howard is a former USA Gymnastics board member.
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