USOC wants USA Gymnastics president resign sex abuse cases

US Olympic Committee leadership is said to be recommending that USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny resigns due to fallout from the federation’s handling of a string of sex abuse cases, according to reports.

The USOC board discussed Penny’s future at its quarterly meeting and delivered the recommendation to Paul Parilla, chairman of USA Gymnastics, says a person familiar with the communications. The person wished to remain anonymous when speaking on Thursday, because of the sensitivity of the discussion.

Without divulging what was actually discussed during the meeting, Parilla released a statement saying the gymnastics board would meet shortly to discuss its next steps.

US Olympic Committee leadership said to recommend that USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny (above) resign due to fallout from the federation's handling of sex abuse cases

US Olympic Committee leadership said to recommend that USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny (above) resign due to fallout from the federation’s handling of sex abuse cases

‘The entire leadership of USA Gymnastics shares the USOC’s commitment to promoting a safe environment for all athletes, and we take its views seriously,’ Parilla said in the statement, obtained by USA Today.

‘USA Gymnastics has initiated a comprehensive, thorough and independent examination of our requirements, mandates and procedures in this area and we expect this review will identify ways to strengthen our program and better protect youth[.] The USA Gymnastics Board of Directors will convene shortly and work to determine next steps.’

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said the board hasn’t set any deadline for USA Gymnastics to act. 

But, USOC chairman Larry Probst told USA Today that he hoped the USAG would respond to the USOC ‘sooner rather than later.’

‘It’s not appropriate for us to tell you what that consensus point of view was until USA Gymnastics has had an opportunity to consider our input and go through their appropriate deliberations and then communicate back to us,’ Probst noted. 

Penny (left) and Dr. Larry Nassar (right) named co-defendants in a civil suit filed in September by US bronze medal gymnast Jamie Dantzscher, who accused Nassar of sexual abuse

Penny is a co-defendant in a civil lawsuit filed last September by 2000 bronze medal-winning US Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, who accused former volunteer US team doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse.

In the lawsuit, Dantzscher claimed Nassar sexually abused her for six years — beginning in 1994 when she was just 12-year-old. 

USAG has denied wrongdoing and Penny — who has served as president since 2005 — has had the support of its board.

While the USOC doesn’t have the official capacity to oust Penny from his position, it could enact measures such as cutting funding if the board doesn’t go along with its recommendations. The USOC currently gives the USAG a cash grant of nearly $2 million each year.  

For years, the USOC has used funding and other tactics to pressure national governing bodies into making changes it deems necessary. 

In 2008, the USOC essentially demanded USA Track and Field streamline its board of directors and said it would consider de-certifying the federation if it did not comply.

Since Blackmun took over in 2010, however, the USOC has taken a less-contentious role with national governing bodies, preferring behind-the-scenes negotiations over public mandates to bring about change.

Since Penny became president of the USAG, the United States has dominated world gymnastics.

US bronze medal gymnast Dantzscher filed a civil lawsuit in California against USA Gymnastics and volunteer team doctor Nassar, claiming that he had sexually abused her since she was 12

Led by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, the women’s program has produced the last four Olympic all-around champions, along with team golds in 2012 and 2016. 

The success turned gymnasts like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Nastia Liukin into stars while also making the organization highly profitable.

That image, however, has taken a serious hit in recent months following an in-depth investigation by the Indianapolis Star that portrayed USA Gymnastics as slow to act when it came to addressing allegations of sexual abuse by coaches at member gyms across the country.

Then, last fall, Dantzscher and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander filed a civil lawsuit in California against USA Gymnastics and Nassar.

Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander also filed a sex abuse civil lawsuit against Nassar

Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander also filed a sex abuse civil lawsuit against Nassar

USOC chairman Larry Probst said the board had a ‘thoughtful discussion’ about Penny’s situation — a discussion that certainly included details about the USOC’s own less-than-robust history of protecting athletes who represent the country at the Olympics.

A trove of documents unsealed last week in a Georgia lawsuit against USA Gymnastics included a 1999 letter from USA Gymnastics’ former president, Bob Colarossi, to Blackmun and others at the USOC warning that it fell short of using the best methods to prevent sex abuse.

Little changed over the years. It wasn’t until a sex abuse scandal at USA Swimming erupted in 2010 that the USOC start taking significant action in handling sex abuse cases, instead of leaving policy and reporting practices up to the individual sports governing bodies.

Just last month, the USOC-funded SafeSport center opened after a two-plus-year quest for funding.

‘Should we have noticed earlier that this full area merited closer attention from the USOC?’ said Blackmun, who served as USOC general counsel when Colarossi sent the letter in 1999.  

‘With the benefit of hindsight, I sure wish we had. But we didn’t, and the truth is, when this became an issue of great media interest in 2010, it became obvious to us that the scope and scale of the problem was much bigger than any of us were aware of.

‘I wish we’d have jumped on it then. I wish we’d had a better appreciation and better response back in 1999.’ 

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