Kobritz: US Olympic Committee invokes nuclear option
Beyond the Lines
The United States Olympic Committee has finally responded to the most horrific sex abuse scandal – in terms of the sheer number of victims - in sports history. They have begun the process of revoking the recognition of USA Gymnastics, the organization that protected team doctor Larry Nassar, who sexually abused hundreds of girls and young women over a period of three decades.
The USOC action was met with joy and relief in the gymnastics community, although some of Nassar’s victims wondered why it didn’t happen sooner. Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was the first person to publicly accuse Nassar, said, “I just wish they (USOC) would’ve taken this step two years ago when it became clear that USA Gymnastics couldn’t handle the situation.
None of this has been fair to the athletes.” Talk about an understatement.
Although rare, revocation of NGO recognition is not unprecedented. The USOC has taken such action against governing bodies in taekwondo, team handball and modern pentathlon. But those actions were taken in response to financial irregularities, not as a result of a sexual abuse scandal. In addition, none of the other NGOs had been as successful nor were they as large - more than 150,000 athletes and 3,000 clubs around the country - as USA Gymnastics.
The level of dysfunction and incompetence exhibited by USA Gymnastics was mindboggling. After burying complaints of Nasser’s illegal activity for years, Steve Penny, the federation’s longtime chief executive, resigned in March 2017. Last month he was charged with evidence tampering in one Nassar investigation.
Penny was succeeded by Kerry Perry, who was forced out in September shortly after promising Congress that changes were afoot at USA Gymnastics. Among her many faux pas, Perry hired Mary Lee Tracy for a development position, knowing that Tracy had continued to defend Nassar even after the doctor was accused of sexual abuse.
Mary Bono, a former Congresswoman from California, followed Perry as interim president and chief executive but resigned just days after her appointment following a tweet criticizing Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick. Regardless of her opinion of the Nike-Kaepernick relationship, you would think Bono had enough internal issues to resolve before turning her attention to other organizations.
Finally, the USOC had seen enough. After the U.S. gymnastics team punched their ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by winning the 2018 World Championships in Qatar last week, USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland sent an open letter to the gymnasts announcing the organization was taking action against their governing body.
In an effort to alleviate the inevitable concerns that would follow, she guaranteed the athletes the USOC would provide training and support prior to and during participation in Tokyo. The timeline for the decertification process is unknown and the USOC is required to identify a successor organization to sponsor the Olympic team.
In the meantime, the USOC has to appoint a review board, hold a hearing, wait for the review panel to issue a report, and then hold a final vote on decertification. Perhaps then, some of Nassar’s victims will have justice.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at email@example.com.