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USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny resigns amid scandal

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Steve Penny resigned as president of USA Gymnastics on Thursday following intensified pressure on the organization for its handling of sex abuse cases.

The resignation came a week after the United States Olympic Committee’s board recommended to USA Gymnastics chairman Paul Parilla that Penny should step down. Penny offered his resignation during a previously scheduled board meeting on Thursday.

“My decision to step aside as CEO is solely to support the best interests of USA Gymnastics at this time,” Penny said in a statement.

Penny joined USA Gymnastics in 1999 and was named the organization’s president in 2005, overseeing one of the greatest runs in Olympic history. Led by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, the women’s program has become a dominant force, producing each of the last four Olympic all-around champions and team golds in 2012 and 2016.

The success turned gymnasts like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson into stars and made USA Gymnastics a magnet for big-time corporate sponsors who wanted to be aligned with its healthy, winning image.

That image took a serious hit in recent months following an investigation by the Indianapolis Star that portrayed USA Gymnastics as slow to act when it came to addressing allegations of sexual abuse by a team doctor and coaches at member gyms across the country.

“The Board believes this change in leadership will help USA Gymnastics face its current challenges and implement solutions to move the organization forward in promoting a safe environment for its athletes at all levels,” Parilla said in a statement.

Last fall, Jamie Dantzscher, a member of the 2000 Olympic team, filed a civil lawsuit in California against USA Gymnastics and former team doctor Larry Nassar.

The lawsuit claims Nassar — who worked for the organization on a volunteer basis for nearly 30 years before being dismissed in the summer of 2015 — sexually groped and fondled the gymnasts as teenagers. Subsequent lawsuits have followed, including some that name Penny, Karolyi and her husband Bela as co-defendants because they “had knowledge of inappropriate conduct and molestations committed by (Nassar) before and during his employment, yet chose to allow him to remain unsupervised where he sexually abused plaintiff.”

Martha Karolyi retired last August and sold the training gyms at the Karolyi Ranch north of Houston to USA Gymnastics.

Nassar was fired by USA Gymnastics after Penny heard of an athlete’s concerns about Nassar’s conduct and went to federal authorities. The organization initially claimed it notified the authorities immediately but amended its timeline last month, indicating it conducted its own investigation during a five-week span before reporting Nassar to the FBI. Nassar is currently in prison in Michigan, where he worked for decades at Michigan State University before being let go last fall. He faces charges in both the state and federal system.

USA Gymnastics hired a former federal prosecutor last fall to conduct an extensive review of the organization’s policies in regards to potential sexual misconduct. The report by Deborah J. Daniels is expected sometime in the spring or early summer.

The gregarious Penny — whose booming voice and penchant for wearing eye-catching shoes during big events made him stand out in a sea of gymnasts — has denied any wrongdoing and the USA Gymnastics board of directors had remained supportive throughout the firestorm.

That didn’t stop the USOC from sending recommendations to USA Gymnastics Thursday. While the USOC does not have official authority to remove heads of national governing bodies, it can apply pressure by threatening to without funding. The USOC gives USA Gymnastics a cash grant of nearly $2 million annually.

Pressure also has been building within the gymnastics community. International Gymnastics Camp, a summer camp located in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, announced last week it was pulling its sponsorship of the organization until “USA Gymnastics must become the leading governing body in child safety considerations including National Team programs and club programs alike,” camp director Brent Klaus wrote in an open letter on the camp’s web site.

Penny’s departure is not enough for some of the women who have filed suit against Nassar and the organization. Attorney John Manly, who is representing more than 70 women currently suing Nassar and USA Gymnastics, issued a letter to USOC chairman Larry Probst this weekend asking the USOC to de-certify USA Gymnastics.

The letter pointed to the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, a federal law that guarantees athletes the right to compete without discrimination. The letter pointed to misconduct by coaches as proof that USA Gymnastics “maternally inhibits these women’s ability to participate in their sport.”

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MORE: Liukin ‘completely shocked’ by allegations

USA Gymnastics closes Karolyi Ranch

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USA Gymnastics said it will no longer use the Karolyi Ranch in Texas as its training center, where athletes said Larry Nassar sexually abused gymnasts.

“USA Gymnastics has terminated its agreement with the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas,” USA Gymnastics CEO and president Kerry Perry said in a press release Thursday. “It will no longer serve as the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December. Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.

“We have cancelled next week’s training camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team. We are exploring alternative sites to host training activities and camps until a permanent location is determined. We thank all those in the gymnastics community assisting in these efforts.”

MORE: Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

World champions Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols said that Nassar sexually abused gymnasts at the ranch.

“When I was 15 I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp at the Karolyi Ranch,” Nichols wrote in a victim impact statement read at one of Nassar’s sentencing hearings on Wednesday and published last week. “This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred.

“I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain.

“He did this ‘treatment’ on me, on numerous occasions.”

Raisman, a three-time Olympic champion, urged USA Gymnastics to close the ranch in a Tuesday interview on ESPN.

“I hope USA Gymnastics listens because they haven’t listened to us so far,” she said. “I hope they listen, and I hope they don’t make any of the girls go back to the ranch. No one should have to go back there after, you know, so many of us were abused there.”

Simone Biles did not specifically name the Karolyi Ranch in her Monday statement, but Raisman said Tuesday that Biles was referring to that site.

“It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work towards my dream of competing at Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” was posted on Biles’ social media.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympian, said Nassar was alone with her in her bed at the ranch.

“There was no one else sent with him,” she said on CBS last year. “The treatment was in the bed, in my bed that I slept on at the ranch.”

USA Gymnastics said in July 2016 that it reached an agreement with former national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi to purchase the training facility the couple owned.

The national governing body backed out of the purchase in May “for a variety of reasons” but continued under its current lease agreement while exploring alternative locations for camps. It held national team camps there in September and November.

The Karolyis established the ranch in 1983 after defecting from Romania. It had been a national team training center since 2001.

Larry Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A statement from McKayla Maroney read Thursday repeated that sexual assault by Larry Nassar “left scars” in her mind that may never fade as a judge heard a third day of testimony from victims.

Nassar could be sentenced Friday in Lansing. Since Tuesday, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has been listening to dozens of young women who were molested after seeking his help for injuries.

Aquilina started the hearing Thursday by saying Nassar had written a letter fearing that his mental health wasn’t strong enough to sit and listen to a parade of victims. He called the hearing “a media circus.”

The judge dismissed it as “mumbo jumbo.”

“Spending four or five days listening to them is minor, considering the hours of pleasure you’ve had at their expense, ruining their lives,” Aquilina said.

Nassar, 54, faces a minimum sentence of 25 to 40 years in prison for molesting girls as a doctor for Michigan State University and at his home.

He also was a team doctor at USA Gymnastics for nearly two decades. He’s already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

“Dr. Nassar was not a doctor,” Maroney said in a statement read by a prosecutor (Maroney’s statement was previously posted in the fall). “He left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”

USA Gymnastics in 2016 reached a financial settlement with Maroney that barred her from making disparaging remarks. But the organization this week said it would not seek any money for her “brave statements.”

A 2000 Olympian, Jamie Dantzscher, looked at Nassar and said, “How dare you ask any of us for forgiveness.”

“Your days of manipulation are over,” she said. “We have a voice. We have the power now.”

Nassar wasn’t the only target. Victims also criticized Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon attended part of the session Wednesday. The school is being sued by dozens of women, who say campus officials wrote off complaints about the popular doctor.

“Guess what? You’re a coward, too,” current student and former gymnast Lindsey Lemke said Thursday, referring to Simon.

The judge has been praising each speaker and criticizing Nassar.

It’s “about their control over other human beings and feeling like God and they can do anything,” Aquilina said of sex offenders.

On Jan. 31, Nassar will get another sentence for sexual assaults at a Lansing-area gymnastics club in a different county.