USA Gymnastics board resigning after sex abuse

Monday, January 29, 2018

Logo of USA Gymnastics
Image: USA Gymnastics. (Reuse terms.)

On Friday, USA Gymnastics (USAG) — the US national governing body for the sport of gymnastics — issued a statement that it will comply with an ultimatum for its entire board to resign. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) issued the ultimatum, in the wake of the sentencing on Wednesday of Larry Nassar for sex abuse, that the entire USAG board must resign within six days or face decertification as the gymnastics national governing body.

On Wednesday, Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for 40 to 175 years on seven counts of sexual abuse. He is alleged to have well more than 150 victims, however, with a history of sexual abuse of minors going back more than a decade. Nassar served as the team physician for USA Gymnastics in a career that spanned four Olympic Games. He abused female members of the gymnastics team under pretense of treating them.

On Thursday, Scott Blackmun, head for the USOC, sent a letter to the USAG board, listing a set of demands. "[W]hile the USOC encourages USA Gymnastics to think and act broadly on reforming its culture, we also believe that reform must start with an entirely new board", Blackmun wrote. "We do not base these requirements on any knowledge that any individual USAG staff or board members had a role in fostering or obscuring Nassar's actions. Our position comes from a clear sense that USAG culture needs fundamental rebuilding."

Although three members of the board had already resigned two days before Nassar's sentencing, Blackmun insisted on a "categorically fresh start at the board level." The letter gives the USAG board until January 31 to resign. By February 28 a new interim board with athlete representation must be seated. Blackmun also outlined a number of additional steps demanded by USOC or face immediate decertification. These include fully cooperating with independent investigations into the Nassar case, ethics training for all staff and board members, and "SafeSport" anti-abuse (i.e. bullying, harassment, hazing) training.

On Friday, USAG issued the statement on its website, saying it intends to comply: "USA Gymnastics supports the United States Olympic Committee's letter and accepts the absolute need of the Olympic family to promote a safe environment for all of our athletes. We agree with the USOC's statement that the interests of our athletes and clubs, and their sport, may be better served by moving forward with meaningful change within our organization, rather than decertification. USA Gymnastics supports an independent investigation that may shine light on how abuse of the proportion described so courageously by the survivors of Larry Nassar could have gone undetected for so long and embraces any necessary and appropriate changes. USA Gymnastics and the USOC have the same goal — making the sport of gymnastics, and others, as safe as possible for athletes to follow their dreams in a safe, positive and empowered environment."