USA Gymnastics interim CEO Mary Bono stepped down today amid heavy criticism from athletes, just five days after she was named CEO of the gymnastics federation.
The Larry Nassar case has hit gymnastics especially hard, but Bono’s departure is just part of a wave of scrutiny and criticism sporting federations have faced on issues of athlete safety and athlete feedback.
USA Gymnastics had been led by Steve Penny for almost 12 years, until he was forced to resign under heavy criticism from gymnasts and others that USA Gymnastics had ignored the abuse of athletes. Kerry Perry took over the position in December of 2017, but only had the job for about ten months. Perry took criticism for how she handled the ongoing athlete safety scandal within the sport, and the last straw came when the organization tried to hire Mary Lee Tracy to “an elite position,” per the New York Times. Tracy had previously defended Nassar, the former doctor with the national gymnastics team who was sentenced to multiple life sentences for sexually abusing athletes. Per the Times, the U.S. Olympic Committee forced Perry to resign.
Bono, a former Republican Congresswoman, was named the new interim CEO on Friday. But she faced almost immediate backlash from gymnasts, including Olympian Simone Biles. Per USA Today, an old tweet resurfaced in which Bono blacked out the white Nike logo on her golf shoes in an apparent protest of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick famously knelt during the playing of the national anthem to protest what he considered police brutality against minority races. Kaepernick was recently made the face of Nike’s new ad campaign, leading many who disagreed with the protest to publicly criticize Nike.
Biles quoted the tweet over the weekend with critical commentary: “*mouth drop*,” she wrote. “don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything”
don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything https://t.co/cYQizcjywn
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) October 13, 2018
Biles is also sponsored by Nike. USA Gymnastics has struggled to find an apparel sponsor since Under Armour broke off its connection to the federation in the wake of the Nassar scandal. Nike had been considered a potential replacement.
Bono’s tweet has since been deleted, and she tweeted saying: “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.”
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.
— Mary Bono (@MaryBonoUSA) October 14, 2018
Bono tweeted a lengthy statement this afternoon addressing her resignation. She said her withdrawal from the organization “comes in the wake of personal attacks that, left undefended, would have made my leading the USAG a liability for the organization.”
Here is the statement I released earlier today regarding my resignation from USA Gymnastics pic.twitter.com/Oqga5FTXvx
— Mary Bono (@MaryBonoUSA) October 16, 2018
USA Today also reports that Bono took criticism from Olympian Aly Raisman, one of the highest profile abuse survivors in the Nassar case. Raisman and her attorney criticized Bono for her association with a law firm called Faegre Baker Daniels. Earlier reports alleged that Faegre Baker Daniels had helped USA Gymnastics provide “false excuses” as to why Nassar was absent from major events in 2015, rather than admitting that Nassar was under investigation for sexual abuse. USA Today reports that Bono had previous worked on “legislative strategies and policies” for the firm, but wasn’t affiliated with the office that worked with USA Gymnastics.
Many major Olympic sporting federations in the United States have had turnover in leadership. Former USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus faced years of heavy criticism for the federation’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against coaches before resigning in 2017. Tim Hinchey has been CEO of the organization since July of 2017.
The USOC released the following statement about Bono’s resignation:
“We learned today that the interim CEO of USA Gymnastics, Mary Bono, resigned from her position. While the situation is unfortunate, we know that USA Gymnastics remains dedicated to the process of finding a new and permanent CEO. The USOC is committed to working hard with the USAG board to find the right leader who can build gymnastics up to the world-class organization we know that it can and should be. Both the USOC staff and myself will continue to work closely with USAG in both the short and long term as they search for a new leader. The well-being of Team USA athletes is our top priority as we manage this process.”