In her second day on the job, the new head of USA Gymnastics apologized for a month-old tweet that angered the sport’s biggest star, Simone Biles.
“I regret the post,” former congresswoman Mary Bono said late Saturday as the sports federation was plunged into yet another round of turmoil that pitted athletes against executives.
The tweet in question showed Bono using a marker to cover up the swoosh on her golf shoes a few days after Nike launched an advertising campaign that featured ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
In the tweet, Bono didn’t mention Kaepernick or his refusal to stand for the National Anthem as a protest against racial injustice, but it was clear that Biles took that as the message.
“Mouth drop,” the gymnast tweeted on Saturday, “don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.”
Nike was a sponsor of the 2016 Summer Games, where Biles won four gold medals and earned her reputation as the greatest gymnast in history.
USA Gymnastics’ last president, Kerry Perry, resigned under pressure amid fierce criticism of the federation’s handling of sex-abuse allegations against one-time team doctor Larry Nassar.
Biles has said she was molested by Nassar, who is now serving an effective life sentence after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a handful of the hundreds of women who accused him of abuse.
Some gymnasts have questioned why USA Gymnastics hired a new president who works at a law firm they say helped keep the initial accusations against Nassar under wraps, while he continued to prey on his patients.
Bono wasted little time trying to douse the firestorm, deleting the offending tweet.
“I regret the post and respect everyone’s views & fundamental right to express them. This doesn’t reflect how I will approach my position @USAGym I will do everything I can to help build, w/ the community, an open, safe & positive environment,” she wrote.
The mea culpa is unlikely to mollify the most vocal critics of USA Gymnastics, who have suggested that decertifying the existing federation and creating a new one is the only way to win back the trust of the athletes.
Lawyer John Manly, who represents many of Nassar’s former patients, said he reviewed Bono’s Twitter account and found no tweets in support of those abused by the doctor.
It did not escape notice that Bono’s September tweet was apparently taking a swipe at an athlete who chose to express his views—and that the gymnasts have complained they were silenced when they spoke up about abuse.
The flare-up comes at a pivotal time. The U.S. team is preparing for the World Championships later this month—a competition that decides which countries qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
In her Saturday night tweet, Bono sounded like she thought the latest controversy would blow over.
“I look forward to telling my gymnastics story, my vision for the future of the sport and why I wanted the job,” she wrote.