USA Gymnastics is bleeding out from another self-inflicted wound.
This should be a happy time for the sport. At the U.S. Championships in Boston earlier this month, Simone Biles left not a sliver of doubt that she is back and better than ever, ready to lead the American squad to Tokyo in two years time.
Instead, the national governing body is consumed again by turmoil of its own making, prompting renewed calls that it be de-certified and replaced by an entirely new organization.
In the space of three days, USAG hired and then asked for the resignation of its new elite development coordinator, who had already threatened to quit and then reneged on that offer.
The problem? The new hire, a veteran coach named Mary Lee Tracy, had in the past defended both serial molester Larry Nassar and the Karolyi Ranch, where Nassar preyed on top athletes as team doctor.
This boggles the mind.
Since the Nassar scandal exploded, survivors have demanded real change in the organization that governs the national sport and chooses the Olympic team.
They want the old guard completely replaced by forward-looking executives untainted by allegations that USAG ignored red flags about Nassar and botched the response when he was unmasked as the most prolific sexual predator in sports.
A quick Google search would have told USAG President Kerry Perry that Nassar’s victims—who include gold medalists like Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber—would be furious about Tracy’s selection,
In December 2016, Tracy told local media that she flat-out didn’t believe the allegations that Nassar had sexually assaulted young athletes under the guise of pelvic procedures. In fact, she called him “amazing.” At the time, 50 former patients had already accused him of abuse.
And in March, Tracy had warm things to say about the Karolyi Ranch, the Texas training center owned by coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi, who have been accused of (and who have denied) pushing top athletes beyond their physical and psychological limits. This was months after some survivors had complained about ranch conditions at Nassar’s epic sentencing hearing.
In addition, some of Tracy’s former athletes have accused her of creating the kind of punishing training atmosphere that gymnasts across the sport have said made them feel powerless to report wrongdoing.
So the reaction to Tracy’s appointment was predictable. Led by Raisman, who has transformed herself into a national advocate, the gymternet went after Tracy and USAG President Kerry Perry, who is barely hanging onto her own job.
Tracy could not have handled the criticism worse. In an interview with local television, she backtracked from her earlier comments about “master manipulator” Nassar—“Would I say that any more? Absolutely not”—but then played herself as the victim.
She complained about emails sent to her and her staff, including one that suggested she should be in a prison cell next to Nassar. And she threatened to resign the new job.
“I will not do it if this public bullying, this cyberbullying of me continues,” she said.
Then, in a what-was-she-thinking move, Tracy tried to contact Raisman, apparently without telling her bosses. According to a Facebook post, Perry then gave her two choices: resign or be fired. While insisting she didn’t know that she should not have reached out to a Nassar victim involved in litigation, Tracy said she would step down.
That could have been the end of it, but as anyone who has been keeping an eye on the USAG over the last two years knows, nothing is ever simple with that crew. An hour after her post, Tracy followed up with a new one in which she switched gears and said she was hiring a lawyer.
A few hours later, USAG put out a statement saying it had asked Tracy to resign for contacting Raisman. It did not offer any apologies for tapping her in the first place. Presumably, it will move to fire Tracy if she doesn’t agree to quit.
But at this point, it seems likely hers won’t be the only head to roll. In an email to USA Today, the brand-new head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which has been engulfed by abuse scandals in other sports as well, issued a vote of no confidence in Perry.
“We’ve been following their activity and as we close the day I’m afraid I can offer nothing but disappointment," USOC chief executive Sally Hirshland wrote. “It is time to consider making adjustments in the leadership.”
Only time will tell if that will make the bleeding stop.