A former U.S. Olympic gymnastics coach who once trained 2016 gold medalist Laurie Hernandez has been suspended for eight years after repeatedly verbally and emotionally abusing young athletes, an independent panel ruled Wednesday.
Maggie Haney, the 42-year-old former Olympic and national team coach, was suspended after a three-person panel found she “engaged in severe aggressive behavior toward a minor that included teasing and ridiculing that was intended to control and diminish another person,” according to the ruling document obtained by the Orange County Register.
The ruling came after two months of hearings, during which Hernandez testified against her longtime coach. Tokyo hopeful and 2018 world champion Riley McCusker also penned a critical letter against Haney, who was still her coach before the suspension.
“The independent hearing panel—comprised of three members of the gymnastics community, including an attorney, a club owner, and a former national team athlete—found that Ms. Haney violated the USA Gymnastics Code of Ethical Conduct, Safe Sport Policy, and other policies,” USA Gymnastics said in the statement on Wednesday, confirming the suspension.
Haney, once the country’s most prominent gymnastics coach as the co-founder of New Jersey-based gym, MG Elite Gymnastics, has long been accused of abuse by former athletes during her two-decade career.
After Hernandez clinched the 2016 Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro as part of the “Final Five” and a silver medal on the balance team, the gymnast filed her first abuse complaint against the coach to a USA Gymnastics official. At least a dozen families, along with McCusker, followed suit in filing complaints against Haney.
In 2019, reports surfaced that Haney was under investigation by USA Gymnastics for allegedly bullying, threatening, and harassing her gymnasts regularly. According to the Orange County Register, parents of these young athletes alleged that their children were repeatedly yelled at for making small mistakes, kicked out of practice, and fat-shamed. Some of these gymnasts were as young as 10, the report states.
During the two-month hearing that began on Feb. 3, over a dozen gymnasts testified that Haney verbally or emotionally abused them at her gym, describing how the 42-year-old would force injured gymnastics to remove their casts and other medical equipment to continue training.
At the end of the hearing, the panel concluded Haney failed “to provide a safe, positive and healthy environment with a culture of trust and empowerment.”
Haney’s USA Gymnastics membership is now suspended, and she can’t coach for eight years. She is also barred from any USA Gymnastics events, except to see her daughter compete. When the suspension is over, USA Gymnastics said Haney “may reapply for membership after submitting proof of completing certain specified Safe Sport courses.” If she is reinstated, Haney will be placed on a two-year probation.
“This is a micro-step by the USA Gymnastics in the right direction,” Judie Saunders, an attorney for Hernandez, told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “I would have to say that there was, and still is, frustration with the process that got us here. Nevertheless, there is some feeling that maybe this ruling will bring out some much-needed change in the sport and USA Gymnastics.”
Haney’s attorney, Russell Prince, did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Haney’s punishment comes just one month after USA Gymnastics suspended Victoria Levine, a coach and the co-owner of MG Elite, on an interim basis over similar allegations of emotional and verbal abuse. Her case is still pending.
The two coaches are the latest stain on the organization that has been under fire since the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse scandal. Nassar, a former MSU employee and gymnastics doctor, was sentenced in 2018 to over 300 years in prison for molesting at least 250 underage girls and one young man, including several well-known Olympic gymnasts.