USA Gymnastics is reaching outside the sport in an effort to move forward after a sex abuse scandal.
The organization hired Kerry Perry as its new president and CEO on Tuesday. She was the vice president of business development at Learfield Communications. Perry will officially start on Dec. 1.
“My focus is going to be creating an environment of empowerment where all have a strong voice and we are dedicated every single day on athlete safety,” Perry said.
She replaces Steve Penny, who resigned in March after 12 years on the job following criticism over the way USA Gymnastics handled sexual abuse claims.
USA Gymnastics has been rocked by accusations of sexual misconduct against Larry Nassar, the former national team doctor from 1996-2015. Nassar is in jail in Michigan awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography.
He’s also awaiting trial on separate criminal sexual conduct charges and has been sued by more than 125 women alleging abuse. Nassar has pleaded not guilty to the assault charges.
The U.S. women have won the last two team titles at the Olympics, as well as the last four all-around golds.
Perry doesn’t have a gymnastics background, but the mother of two said her top priority is in line with the governing body’s renewed emphasis on the protection of more than 150,000 members — the vast majority children — at 3,500 clubs in the country.
David Benck, chairman of the seven-person search committee, said Perry was approved by a unanimous vote.
“Everybody wanted us to find the best leader we could possibly find, someone that could bring increased transparency and leadership and team building skills to the organization to really try and take the organization, from the grass roots all the way to the board, take it forward and rebuild the trust in the entire company,” Benck said.
Perry takes over one of the Olympic movement’s most high-profile programs, one that captured 105 Olympic or world championship medals since Penny began his tenure in 2005.
American women have become a dominant force over the last 13 years. Simone Biles produced a record run at the 2016 Rio Olympics, winning four gold medals to go along with a bronze.
USA Gymnastics launched an independent review of its policies in the wake of the allegations against Nassar in the summer of 2016, following reporting by the Indianapolis Star that highlighted chronic mishandling of abuse allegations against coaches and staff at member clubs across the country.
In June, the board adopted the new USA Gymnastics Safe Sport Policy that replaced the previous policy. Key updates include mandatory reporting, defining six types of misconduct, setting standards to prohibit grooming behavior, prevent inappropriate interaction and establishing accountability.
In July, the organization hired Toby Stark, a child welfare advocate, as its director of Safe Sport. Part of Stark’s mandate is educating members on rules, educational programs and reporting. The federation also adopted several recommendations by Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw the review.
Two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney and 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher have discussed alleged abuse by Nassar.
Dantzscher and six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman have called for sweeping changes in leadership, including the removal of the chairman of the board Paul Parilla.
Perry declined to get into specifics about the future of the current leadership, saying only “I have confidence in our leadership and staff.”
She says her concern is helping restore faith in the organization.
“I want all the moms and dads to know that when they drop their children off at a USA Gymnastics gym or club, that they have the confidence knowing we’re doing everything at every level of the organization to ensure that their children are safe so they can thrive in a sport that so many of us love,” she said.
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