USA Gymnastics’ new president slammed over Nassar comments
USA Gymnastics’ revolving door of presidents has produced sweeping promises to recover from the Larry Nassar abuse scandal.
But all four leaders in the past two years have faced widespread criticism over gaffes deemed insensitive to Nassar’s survivors.
The latest example: Newly minted USAG President Li Li Leung told NBC’s “Today” show that she, too, was examined by the disgraced doctor when she was a gymnast.
The controversial comment came when Leung explained why she wasn’t abused by the former USAG team doctor.
“The reason why I wasn’t abused by him is because my coach was by my side when he saw me. I was seen by him in a public setting,” Leung said in an interview that aired Wednesday.
“So I understand what the setting needs to be like in order to ensure safety for our athletes.”
Those comments struck a nerve with viewers who pointed out that some of Nassar’s accusers said they were abused even when there was another adult in the room.
“Incorrect @Li_Li_Leung. This happened many times w/parents or coaches in the same room,” Katherine Marchant tweeted. “Please educate yourself by listening to all of the victim impact statements.”
Leung, who became president and CEO on March 8, apologized for her comments shortly after the interview aired.
“I understand how my comment seems insensitive to the survivors and their families, and I apologize,” Leung tweeted. “My intent was not to diminish what they’ve been through. I should have clarified that my experience was completely different from theirs … and it is wrong to suggest I could have a solution based on my experience alone.”
Leung said she hoped to meet with some of Nassar’s victims.
“I cannot know all necessary steps to take until I hear their stories, and hope they will have a dialogue with us regarding athlete safety and well-being going forward,” she tweeted.
A governing body up in the air
Despite massive success from its athletes, USAG hasn’t been able to keep a president for longer than nine months since the Nassar scandal erupted.
Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, was sentenced in January 2018 to 40 to 175 years in prison after more than 150 women and girls told a judge that he sexually abused them.
Leung is now the fourth person to lead USAG in the past two years. Here’s a quick look at what happened to the presidents before her:
— Steve Penny was president and CEO of USA Gymnastics from 2005 to 2017, during which many of Nassar’s accusers said they were molested by Nassar.
Penny once testified that he didn’t think it was always necessary to forward child abuse allegations to authorities. He also expressed concern that false allegations could harm a coach’s reputation, the Indianapolis Star reported.
Penny was arrested in October 2018, accused of tampering with evidence and removing documents related to the Nassar scandal from the Karolyi Ranch training facility. If convicted of the third-degree felony charge, Penny faces up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
— In December 2017, Kerry Perry succeeded Penny as USAG’s president and CEO. But she was widely criticized for what many considered boilerplate soundbites and inadequate action after the Nassar scandal.
After nine months on the job, Perry quit in September 2018.
— Former US Rep. Mary Bono became interim president and CEO in October 2018. But she didn’t last a week.
Bono came under fire after a September tweet surfaced of her defacing a Nike logo. (Nike had recently featured former NFL player and controversial civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign.)
But Nike is also a huge sponsor of Olympic champion Simone Biles, the biggest star of USA Gymnastics and the face of the sport. Biles called Bono out on her tweet.
“don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything,” Biles tweeted.
Others said Bono’s tweet was tone-deaf in the wake of the Nassar scandal, saying it was the suppression of athletes’ voices that allowed Nassar’s abuse to fester.
Bono deleted the tweet and said she regretted it. Three days later, Bono resigned.