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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

USOC says USA Gymnastics president should resign amid scandal

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A person familiar with the communications tells The Associated Press that U.S. Olympic Committee leadership has recommended USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny resign amid fallout from the federation’s handling of a string of sex-abuse cases.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Thursday because of the sensitivity of the discussion.

The USOC board discussed Penny’s future at its quarterly meeting and delivered the recommendation to Paul Parilla, chairman of USA Gymnastics.

Without divulging what was discussed, Parilla released a statement saying the gymnastics board would meet shortly to discuss its next steps.

Penny is a co-defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, who has accused former volunteer team doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse.

USA Gymnastics has denied wrongdoing.

Penny has had the support of the USA Gymnastics board. And while the USOC doesn’t have official capacity to oust him, it could take measures such as cutting funding if the board doesn’t go along with its recommendations. USOC gives USAG a cash grant of nearly $2 million each year.

Parilla’s statement said USAG “shares the USOC’s commitment to promoting a safe environment for all athletes, and we take its views seriously.”

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said the board hasn’t set any deadline for USA Gymnastics to act.

For years, the USOC has used funding and other tactics to pressure national governing bodies into making changes it deems necessary. For instance, in 2008, the USOC essentially demanded USA Track and Field streamline its board of directors and said it would consider decertifying the federation if it did not comply.

Since Blackmun took over in 2010, however, the USOC has been reluctant to pressure national governing bodies into making major changes and has been most deferential to its biggest NGBs – the ones that bring home the most medals from the Olympics.

Penny has served as president of USA Gymnastics since 2005, during which time the United States has dominated world gymnastics. Led by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, the women’s program has produced the last four Olympic all-around champions, along with team golds in 2012 and 2016. The success turned gymnasts like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Nastia Liukin into stars while also making the organization highly profitable.

That image, however, has taken a serious hit in recent months following an in-depth investigation by the Indianapolis Star that portrayed USA Gymnastics as slow to act when it came to addressing allegations of sexual abuse by coaches at member gyms across the country.

Then, last fall, Dantzscher and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander filed a civil lawsuit in California against USA Gymnastics and Nassar.

USOC chairman Larry Probst said the board had a “thoughtful discussion” about Penny’s situation – a discussion that certainly included details about the USOC’s own less-than-robust history of protecting athletes who represent the country at the Olympics.

A trove of documents unsealed last week in a Georgia lawsuit against USA Gymnastics included a 1999 letter from USA Gymnastics’ former president, Bob Colarossi, to Blackmun and others at the USOC warning that it fell short of using the best methods to prevent sex abuse.

Little changed over the years, and not until a sex-abuse scandal at USA Swimming erupted in 2010 did the USOC start taking significant action. Just last month, the USOC-funded SafeSport center opened after a two-plus-year quest for funding.

“Should we have noticed earlier that this full area merited closer attention from the USOC?” said Blackmun, who served as USOC general counsel when Colarossi sent the letter. “With the benefit of hindsight, I sure wish we had. But we didn’t, and the truth is, when this became an issue of great media interest in 2010, it became obvious to us that the scope and scale of the problem was much bigger than any of us were aware of.

“I wish we’d have jumped on it then. I wish we’d had a better appreciation and better response back in 1999.”

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Police: 81 people accuse ex-USA Gymnastics doctor of sexual assault

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan sports doctor who treated elite female U.S. gymnasts was charged Wednesday with sexually assaulting nine girls, including some too reluctant to speak up about the alleged abuse years ago because he was considered a “god.”

In the last six months, 81 people have claimed to be victims of sexual assault by ex-USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, according to the Michigan State University Police Department.

Roughly two dozen charges were filed Wednesday against Nassar, the first criminal cases related to his work at Michigan State University where he was the preferred doctor for gymnasts in the region who had back or hip injuries.

He’s also being sued by dozens of women and girls, including 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, who described the assaults on “60 Minutes” Sunday.

“This guy is disgusting. This guy is despicable,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette told reporters. “He is a monster.”

Nassar, 53, was a doctor for Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, until summer 2015, accompanying the women’s team at international competitions, including the Olympics. Michigan State fired him last September after he violated restrictions that were put in place in 2014 following a complaint.

Nassar’s attorneys declined to comment Wednesday. He has denied abuse, and, in an email last fall to his Michigan State bosses, said, “I will overcome this.”

The charges were filed in two cases: one in Ingham County, the home of Michigan State, and the other nearby in Eaton County, where Nassar saw injured girls at Gedderts’ Twistars Club, a gymnastics club.

He’s accused of sticking his fingers in their vaginas, without gloves, during treatments for various injuries. Parents were asked to leave the room or Nassar used a sheet or stood in a position to block any view, police said. Two girls were under age 13, and seven were 13 to 16.

“Dr. Nassar used his status and authority to engage in horrid sexual assaults under the guise of medical procedures,” Schuette said.

A girl identified as Victim B, now 21, said she was sexually assaulted by Nassar “`more times than she could count,”‘ Det. Sgt. Andrea Munford wrote in an affidavit.

“Victim B stated that she and all the gymnasts trusted Nassar and that he was like a god to the gymnasts. … Because it was happening to all of them, they thought it was normal,” Munford said.

Munford said Nassar sometimes gave gifts to girls to keep their confidence, including leotards and pins from the Olympics. One victim quoted Nassar as saying, “We don’t tell parents about this because they wouldn’t understand,” a reference to vaginal penetration.

Schuette said more charges are coming. Michigan State University Police Chief James Dunlap said he has more than a dozen people working on the Nassar investigation.

Nassar suddenly came under intense scrutiny last summer when former gymnasts accused him of abuse, following an August report in the Indianapolis Star about how USA Gymnastics handled sexual abuse complaints against coaches and others.

Lawyers suing Michigan State on behalf of victims have accused the university of failing to do more to prevent Nassar’s alleged acts. In court filings, gymnastics coach Kathie Klages is accused of downplaying complaints about him in the late 1990s. She suddenly quit last week, a day after she was suspended for defending him in front of her team.

Michigan State is conducting an internal investigation of Nassar’s work.

“I am deeply troubled by the emerging details and recognize the courage it takes to come forward with information about personally traumatic events,” President Lou Anna Simon said Wednesday.

Besides the new criminal cases, Nassar faces charges in two cases that were filed in 2016 and are unrelated to his work as a doctor. He’s accused of possessing child pornography and molesting the daughter of family friends. He remains in jail without bond.

Dantzscher spoke to “60 Minutes” about her experiences with Nassar.

“He would put his fingers inside of me, move my leg around,” she “He would tell me I was going to feel a pop and that that would put my hips back and help my back pain.”