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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