President Of USA Gymnastics Steve Penny Resigns Under Pressure From USOC
Penny announced his intent to resign during a USA Gymnastics board of directors meeting that originally intended to discuss a vacant board seat and review amendments to the bylaws for the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Board chair Paul Parilla will guide USA Gymnastics' operations in the interim as the national governing body searches for a replacement and moves forward with the ongoing, independent evaluation of reporting practices that is expected to be completed this spring by former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels.
"We have accepted Steve's resignation and want to thank him for his contributions and dedication to USA Gymnastics over the years," Parilla said in a statement. "The Board believes this change in leadership will help USA Gymnastics face its current challenges and implement solutions to move the organization forward in promoting a safe environment for its athletes at all levels. USA Gymnastics and the entire gymnastics community must work together to focus on keeping athletes safe. We believe Ms. Daniels' recommendations will identify areas where we can strengthen and refine how we handle sexual misconduct as an organization, expand our efforts to educate the entire community, including parents and athletes, about what to watch for and what to do if they suspect abuse is happening. Everyone can be an active and vigilant participant for this to be effective, not only in gymnastics but also the Olympic movement as a whole."
In the past 20 years, more than 368 former gymnasts have come forward to speak about the abuses they suffered as children--a rate of one every 20 days, which is likely an undercount, according to the IndyStar. And since last summer, more than 80 former gymnasts have come forward to accuse Dr. Larry Nassar, the U.S. national team's physician during the last four Olympics, of sexual abuse.
For several months, USA Gymnastics has been under a critical microscope for how it has handled the reporting of sexual misconduct--in particular, Penny's failure to immediately contact authorities once allegations of abuse surrounding Dr. Nassar were brought to USA Gymnastics' attention in June of 2015. In a statement posted on USA Gymnastics' website on February 16, 2017, the organization outlined a timeline regarding the reporting of Dr. Nassar. When top USA Gymnastics officials received reports of his abuse, the organization first hired an independent investigator to interview the involved gymnasts in order to determine whether it "would be appropriate to notify law enforcement." As a result, five weeks went by before USA Gymnastics reported Dr. Nassar to the FBI.
As the organization that presides over all national governing bodies in sport, the USOC does not have the power to fire its leaders, but it can influence resignations. In 2008, the USOC backed its requested changes to USA Track and Field's board of directors with the possibility of decertifying the organization if it refused to acquiesce.
In a statement, Penny wrote the following:
"For the past 18 years, it has been a privilege to serve the membership of USA Gymnastics. There will never be enough words to describe my tremendous respect for all of the athletes who put their hearts and souls into the sport of gymnastics every day, along with the coaches, club owners, volunteers, families, and other professionals that support them with honor.
"Throughout this time there have been many amazing moments along with challenges. My primary objectives over the last 12 years as CEO have been to raise the bar on how USA Gymnastics serves its athletes; to build relationships that provide resources to help the organization and its membership flourish; and to build a team effort that brought the sport together around common goals.
"Among the most important priorities has been Safe Sport. We all care deeply about the safety of our athletes, which is fundamental to a rewarding experience at any level of gymnastics. It has been heartbreaking to learn of instances of abuse and it sickens me that young athletes would be exploited in such a manner.
"I applaud the United States Olympic Committee for creating a broad SafeSport platform that has brought new awareness to the importance of this issue and provided a robust solution for the National Governing Bodies to demonstrate their passion for athlete protection. The U.S. Center for SafeSport establishes an important framework for every National Governing Body to strengthen its resolve against abuse. Everyone associated with USA Gymnastics will benefit from this advancement.
"My decision to step aside as CEO is solely to support the best interests of USA Gymnastics at this time.
"I want to thank everyone for their support over the years, especially those members who have provided thoughtful feedback as to how we could improve the organization. I am especially grateful to the USA Gymnastics staff and everyone who has served on the board of directors over the years. These incredible people have always acted in the best interests of the organization and challenged USA Gymnastics to seek improvements that would benefit the membership it served."
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