It’s Time To Start Over

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Former USA Gymnastics president Kerry Perry

When USA Gymnastics named Mary Lee Tracy the new elite development coordinator last week, Becca Feldman, who has been actively following developments with the Larry Nassar fallout and how the governing bodies are handling it moving forward, asked if she could write an op ed for The Gymternet.

“Of course!” I said. She got to work, combining her own thoughts and feelings while also speaking to Alyssa Beckerman, the 2000 Olympic alternate who trained with Tracy at Cincinnati Gymnastics, about what it would mean for the culture of the sport if Tracy took over.

But before she could finish, Tracy’s tenure was over, and a day later, so was USA Gymnastics president Kerry Perry’s.

What went down in that 48 hour period between Tracy being appointed to the position and then being forced to resign? Well, a lot of people spoke out against her getting the job, including Aly Raisman, who called it “a slap in the face for survivors” and said USA Gymnastics was showing “no willingness to learn from the past.” Tracy was offended by the criticism and reportedly reached out to Raisman to make amends (but not before accusing her of cyberbullying), Perry told her to resign or she’d be removed from the position for “inappropriately reaching out” to a survivor (though Raisman says Tracy never contacted her), Tracy announced her resignation on Facebook (but then took it back an hour later), elite coaches (who ignored Perry’s incompetencies for nine months but were finally inspired to act when their friend MLT was wronged) called for Perry’s removal, and late Monday night, the OC Register reported that Perry was done.

As an elite coach with 30 years of experience, Tracy was well-known in the gymnastics community for her abusive ‘old school’ coaching tactics, perpetuating a culture of submission and fear in the gym, creating athletes who would be too afraid to challenge or question her or other adults in the sport and beyond.

This culture, also prevalent throughout many other elite gyms in the country as well as in the Karolyis’ national team training center, put medals and winning above the safety and well-being of the athletes. Gymnasts won gold medals, but at what cost? Suffering through eating disorders to stay thin enough, training and competing with broken bones to keep from being blacklisted, and being sexually assaulted on a regular basis under the guise of treatment were all results of the elite gymnastics culture in the U.S., with Tracy a leading figure in this world.

Worst of all, Tracy publicly and proudly defended Larry Nassar when accusations against him first surfaced in 2016. I’ll never forget the aftermath of Jamie Dantzscher coming forward: Nassar simply posted a photo of his daughter, who was diagnosed with autism and was often the face of awareness meets at Michigan State and the University of Michigan, and hundreds of people responded to his post with their support, Tracy included.

almost get it. If my father or brother or friend of 20+ years was accused of assaulting a teenage girl over a decade ago, I’d be shocked and horrified, and even if there was concrete evidence that it happened and even if I believed the victim without a doubt, I’d still be in disbelief, unable to comprehend that a person I loved and respected could do something so horrible.

After several months during which over 50 women made accusations against Nassar followed by the FBI discovering child pornography on his computers, most of his early supporters dropped like flies, but Tracy was still there, hanging on to her experiences with him as proof that he couldn’t be a bad guy, as if the dozens of other terrible experiences with him weren’t valid simply because she never saw it.

“My Olympians have all worked with Larry,” Tracy said in December of that year. “We were all defending him because he has helped so many kids in their careers. He has protected them, taken care of them, worked with me, and worked with their parents. He’s been amazing.”

A lot has happened since then. Now over 400 victims of Nassar’s sexual abuse have come forward, including two of Tracy’s own athletes, despite her claims that none of her gymnasts were affected. Morgan White, a member of the 2000 Olympic team who was forced to withdraw after suffering an injury in Sydney, came forward earlier this summer, and just yesterday, Amanda Jetter, a member of the national team from 2008-2012 who also competed for the University of Alabama, tweeted that she too was assaulted.

No one really stands up for Nassar anymore, save for his own attorney, but although Tracy now claims to have been fooled by him “just as his victims were” and although she no longer publicly makes excuses for him or celebrates him as an amazing doctor, she has instead moved on to trying to discredit his victims, which is just as problematic as voicing her support.

Tracy and other club coaches continue to routinely post on social media — both publicly and in closed groups — about how people like Aly Raisman are “trying to ruin the sport.” Tracy and Kelli Hill, who is currently on the international elite committee, publicly called Raisman a liar when Raisman detailed her negative experiences at the ranch. Another coach posted a link to Raisman’s net worth — estimated at two million dollars — and the comments on this post, mostly from other coaches, suggest money is her true motivation for “staying relevant.” And a question posed in one of these groups asks “how do we fight the negative publicity of #MeToo, Aly Raisman, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, and Rachael Denhollander?” as if they’re the problem.

But they’re not the problem. These coaches — including Tracy — are the problem, and they don’t get it. At all.

After two years of gymnasts and athletes from dozens of other sports coming forward and using their voices to affect positive change, after two years of learning why it’s important to amplify rather than stifle the voices and opinions of girls and young women, these coaches still demand silence because the mental and physical health of their athletes still matters less to them than their own reputations.

That’s all it comes down to. These coaches have built lengthy, prestigious, and prosperous careers on the backs of children, and instead of protecting or supporting them and putting their safety and well-being above all, they’re concerned instead with how they and the sport are viewed in the public eye, and why? Not because they care about gymnasts or the sport. It’s because they care only about themselves.

There are plenty of club and elite coaches in the U.S. and around the world who don’t rely on abusive, psychologically-destructive, or fear-based tactics who have reached the pinnacle of success with their athletes, proving that positive coaching not only works, but that athletes thrive when they’re treated right. We’ve seen how much better things can be when gymnasts are happy and healthy, and anyone who cares about the future of gymnastics should be listening intently to the Nassar survivors and any other athletes speaking up about everything from poor conditions to outright abuse. The best people to change the sport are the ones who experienced what needs to change.

But Tracy won’t listen to the survivors, she won’t listen to her former gymnasts who find her unfit to be in a position at the developmental level, and she won’t listen to the community at large when they question her comments about Nassar, deleting comments on her Facebook if they skew at all negatively towards her and the things she’s said, and this is why USA Gymnastics never should have considered her for a role, let alone handed her a job focused on the development of young athletes.

“Can you change the culture of an elite athletics program by relying on those who contributed and defended that culture?” This is what Becca Feldman asked when she began her op ed about Tracy’s hire.

“In the wake of the biggest sexual abuse scandal in the history of athletics, USA Gymnastics commissioned a report by former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels that concluded the organization ‘needs to undergo a complete cultural change, permeating the entire organization and communicated to the field in all its actions,’ and for an organization attempting to undergo such fundamental changes, [the appointment of Tracy as the new women’s elite development coordinator] puzzled many in the community,” Feldman wrote.

With then-president Kerry Perry pushing buzzwords — empowering, empowerment, empowered, culture of empowerment — through “cookie cutter statements” promising that the organization is “creating an empowered environment where athletes are free to speak out about any issues they have with the program,” bringing Tracy in seemed to contradict everything this “new culture” would stand for.

When Feldman spoke to Alyssa Beckerman, she said the environment Tracy created in her gym was “toxic and competitive,” and questions whether someone with Tracy’s past would be able to evolve to coach in the cultural environment recommended by the Daniels report. “The rules were not to speak unless asked to. If you spoke without prompting, you were considered deviant, disrespectful.”

For Tracy, speaking up is a weakness, not a strength. In response to people who question her ability to change, her ability to fit this new culture, and her ability to do her job, she deleted comments and and accused everyone of speaking out — including Raisman — of being “cyberbullies.”

In a frantic and opinionated post-Nassar community, I try to be a voice of reason. As a survivor of sexual assault, I recognize the importance of moving forward in the healing process but I also know that this can’t be accomplished without understanding and coming to terms with what has happened. I push for change but accept that it’s not going to happen overnight. I was never an advocate for “burning it all down,” and despite being consistently disappointed, I am always rooting for USA Gymnastics to at some point do the right thing so that the current generation of athletes can put the focus back on competing (albeit in an environment that is healthy and supportive rather than toxic and dangerous). I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, I know people can change, and I hope for the best from everyone, even if they have let us down before.

When Tracy was named the new developmental coach for the women’s program, I was one of the few who thought, “well, she has a questionable past, but she has also spent the past two years learning why things need to change,” and I hoped with all of my heart that she was one of the people who was working to learn from mistakes to make this a better sport.

But her reaction to criticism shows that she hasn’t changed, not one bit, and that her continued refusal to listen to athletes and make their voices, their safety, and their lives the priority above her reputation proves that she can’t be trusted with the care of the young athletes — generally between the ages of eight and twelve — who attend the developmental camps. Frankly, I don’t know how she was hired to begin with, but this is USA Gymnastics we’re talking about, so the fact that they either didn’t do their due diligence or just straight-up ignored her history really shouldn’t surprise me.

I do like that Perry was quick to listen to survivors and others in the community who questioned Tracy’s hiring, and I think that those running the women’s program are actively trying to fix a seemingly impossibly broken system in a sport they love and want to see move forward, but the fact that Tracy was hired in the first place shows that the people in charge don’t know what they’re doing, and beyond Perry’s resignation, there’s still so much that needs to be done.

After the dumpster fire of incompetence displayed by USA Gymnastics over the past week, however, I no longer have any confidence that this can be done without totally and utterly dismantling the system. In all of my patience and understanding and hope for change over the past two years, we have yet to see any actionable learning or any real results.

Yesterday, Raisman tweeted her thoughts about USA Gymnastics’ statement concerning Perry’s resignation, quoting the “definition of insanity” in response to the governing body’s search for yet another new leader.

“Before we get excited about new leadership, we need to be sure they won’t be selected, approved, hired, and/or supervised by the old guard, who — inexplicably — are intent on preserving the same culture that led us into the ugliest, most dangerous era in the sport’s history,” she wrote, and she’s right. The old guard hasn’t ever gotten it right, and putting the future in their hands yet again is the wrong choice, one that will result in more incompetence, more dysfunction, and more failure.

It’s time to start over.

Resources

Your friend is accused of sexual misconduct — now what?

Tips for talking to survivor of sexual assault

7 Little Ways to Support Sexual Assault Survivors

Free Darkness2Light Course to help educate to prevent child sexual abuse

Article by Lauren Hopkins and Becca Feldman

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30 thoughts on “It’s Time To Start Over

  1. Thank you, Lauren, I’ve been hoping you’d say something like this. Your ability to look toward progress and forgiveness and growth is sometimes at odds with the rest of the gymternet, so your voice is always useful to read and consider. Then to hear you say “right, that’s it, it’s fucked” is like… if you’re saying it, it must be pretty far gone.

    So now what? Decertify and start over with a new org? How does that even work? I don’t think there’s hope for USAG itself successfully cleaning house at this point, but can that be effected from outside by USOC or FIG even Congress? Would the ongoing lawsuits result in bankruptcy and a new organisation being founded by dint of USAG dissolving financially?

    Like… now what?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I generally have some insight into the community of coaches and athletes that many outsiders don’t get, and I often hear things that make me a little more warm to them than I might be if I DIDN’T know that information so I’m always like okay, we know 5% of the story and can’t always make judgments based on that if we ONLY know the terrible…but in terms of USAG as a whole, I think we’re absolutely at a point where there’s nothing more the current group can do. Some of them are good people, and I’m sure they want the sport to progress, but after all that KP did in her nine months at USAG, all of the fuck-ups and lies, the fact that these people only stood up against her because she made MLT resign is pretty telling that these people don’t care about anything but their own asses. They do not prioritize the gymnasts at all, and keeping them in charge on boards and in committees will only serve to hold up the old order.

      I don’t know how to move forward, honestly…decertification is a scary prospect, especially when you consider that this is more than just the women’s elite program. It goes far beyond that into J.O. and rec gym and all of the other disciplines…I think there would need to be an interim women’s elite program to make sure the current generation is taken care of and supported, and if that’s just their coaches coming together and running camps at their gyms or whatever, fine. I think the fact that this isn’t a centralized program will help because the gymnasts won’t face much of an interruption in the day-to-day of how they’re training…so then it’s just a matter of having that interim program where they can meet up every few months to work together and select teams until a new governing body can be built and structured. But I don’t know how that would work on the large-scale level with USAG having to be shut down. I’d imagine the USOC would have to be behind the decision, and then they would probably also run things in the interim…but yeah. It’s a logistical nightmare as a whole though I think the women’s elite program could survive through it with little damage.

      Like

    • I think before they can effectively move forward, the lawsuit needs to be settled. They need to start meeting with the women and their lawyer, lay all the cards out on the table, and go from there. If the sum does lead to bankruptcy, then you can start over. If it doesn’t, then great, but still start over in a fashion that is transparent and methodically implements the Daniels report – giving due dates for each implementation.

      More than anything, listen to the former and current athletes. USAG isn’t Steve Penny or Kerry Perry, it’s not even Simone Biles. It’s the Level 10’s trying for a scholarship, the Level 4’s landing a back handspring for the first time and getting that first thrill of accomplishment. Those formerly and currently involved with this sport will want to exact positive change that will help all of the girls’ chasing their dreams catch them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: It's Time To Start Over | species specific

  3. Some food for thought:

    1) Perry was hired nine months ago. The board was only seated in June. They inherited Perry. This board, if you read their bios, should have the knowledge and experience (including abuse prevention and education) to make the changes outlined in the Daniels report. We might want to give them time to function and hire who they want to make the structural changes we desire.

    2) The words all of us want to hear from USAG…. “We are sorry. It was our fault,” will not happen while the law suits are in progress. In my opinion, the best thing USAG can do is settle quickly, make a statement of responsibility (” We did not know or condone… but we created a structure that…. etc.”) and then allow the board to make the structural changes that will move the sport forward. The open question is whether those involved in the suits want change or want to ‘burn it down.’ If they want the former, there is hope to move forward. If they want the latter, the futures of a lot of current gymnasts are at stake. If USAG will not budge, we are all out of luck.

    3) Take a look at the federal government’s oversight of health care or the environment. We do not want them involved in sport any more than need be. However, there are legislative changes that can be made at the state level that will help protect athletes. Look at what your local legislators are doing about making coaches mandatory court reporters and otherwise helping protect athletes at the local level.

    4) We need to ask some questions of ourselves- outside of USAG- as we move forward. At what point can we say a coach used horrendous training methodologies in the 80s/90s but today runs a program where gymnasts thrive, and be OK with that? Can we ever be OK with that? How quickly should change occur with an individual coach? At the gym level? At the national organization level? How do we measure the progress associated with change? Obviously, a 100% obliteration of abuse in our sport is the low-hanging fruit here, but a healthy coaching environment involves more than that, so how do we measure success? What is our role in affecting this change? How do we communicate to and with others about the good and not so good things that are going on in the sport? After all, it’s our sport.

    I don’t see any part of this situation as having easy answers. I also don’t see the change we desire occurring quickly simply because large organizations don’t work that way. What we do have i our favor is the fact that USAG is being scrutinized closely right now- and that can push them toward positive changes that help athletes. I suggest letting USAG know what it is we want as athletes, parents, commentators, and fans. They can be reached at:

    130 E. Washington St., Suite 700
    Indianapolis, IN 46204
    Phone: 317-237-5050

    And the women’s Elite Coaching Association should also hear from us:
    925-238-0316
    mguzman@useca.us
    925-303-2151

    Liked by 3 people

    • >Take a look at the federal government’s oversight of health care or the environment. We do not want them involved in sport any more than need be.

      That’s a pretty loaded statement. Many people feel the government should enforce more oversight of health care and the environment, not less. Personally I am a fan of Medicare and clean water and air.

      The USOC and the national federations for each sport operate as quasi-governmental bodies, it seems the federal government should step in when those organizations catastrophically fail.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Noted. I believe that, right now, the US has screwed up health care- through action or inaction- beyond the pale. My [admittedly snarky] comment was directed more toward not compounding an already bad situation with further ineptitude than leaning toward specific health care policy. I should not have conflated the issues. My apologies.

        Like

        • I honestly agree with you right there. Too many politicians pass legislation on issues that they have no background knowledge of, it’s just a matter of lobbying, public opinion, and who’s paying for their vote.

          And let’s look at all the congressman and senators who prey on young interns. Monica, Chandra Levy, or have issues with their sexuality and set up bathroom dalliances between other members of the same sex by “wide stance.” There are so many issues with so many politicians – do we really want those people telling us to behave? It’s like asking Harvey Weinstein implement the Daniels Report.

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    • response to #4:
      I definitely think that coaches who used abusive tactics back in the day, but have changed and have gyms with a healthy environment certainly deserve a second chance. If anything, they’re the ones making the changes that the gymternet desperately wants USAG to make. Valeri Liukin is a great example, actually. There’s no denying that he was terrible to his athletes in the past, and nothing he says or does will make that ok. That said, the difference between him and say, MLT, is that he took steps in the right direction. He understood how what he did was wrong, he tried to implement changes at the national team level to make things better (this is proven by #WST), and most importantly, he learned from his mistakes and took accountability for the problems that he caused. He told the other coaches to learn from his mistakes, which sets a great example for younger coaches who are new to the sport. Liukin is far from perfect, but by condemning him (or any other coach in a similar spot) for mistakes he made years ago is downright foolish of us. If they make an honest effort to become better, why shouldn’t we forgive (but not forget…) their past mistakes and grant them a clean slate?

      Liked by 2 people

      • IMO, that depends on a few things, including the recency of the poor behaviour, the clear and sincere recognition of what was wrong about it, the stated plan about future ways, and the naming of advisors to help in implementation of reforms.

        See when Valeri Liukin comes out with that list, I’ll bite. Same with Tom Forster at this point. But I think it’s a mistake to say, well, they were out of the limelight for year or two so let’s see what happens now, maybe they’re magically better.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m not saying that Valeri magically a perfect and flawless coach/coordinator, but I am saying that he got markedly better. We can’t expect perfection from anyone, but we CAN expect improvement, which Valeri did show us.

          Like

  4. Paragraph 18 “and this is why USA Gymnastics never should have been considered for a role in USA Gymnastics” I think that’s suppose to say Tracy not USA Gymnastics.🙂

    Like

  5. I love this article, but I take issue with your use of the phrase “suffering with autism.” As an autistic person, I am letting you know that is an ableist thought. Autism does not make us “suffer.” The only thing we suffer from is the ignorance of others when it comes to us and how we act.

    On another note, why is no one investigating Nassar’s foundation for autistic kids? There’s a damn good chance that he hurt at least some of the kids he worked with through the foundation. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t.

    Like

  6. It may be worth noting that a less centralized system will have the most negative impact on athletes from smaller programs with less experienced coaches. The irony of suspending camps, etc. (which may be a necessary interim step) is that it may put more power into the hands of coaches who have already taken multiple athletes to the elite level and to world and Olympic championships. For all their problems (and atrocities they unintentionally enabled), camps did allow less experienced coaches to learn to navigate an overwhelming process with their athletes. In the absence of a functioning camp system, such athletes might feel they have to go to more experienced coaches if they want to go elite successfully.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. An assortment of observers have for years been pointing out
    an assortment of problems in the realm of sports. (With some
    research, I could cite examples, but by that time most persons
    would have gone on to other issues.) Not just in gymnastics, but
    in lots of other sports as well. One of the basic problems is
    the general public’s captivation with winning at all costs —
    the “winning isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing” attitude,
    no matter how you get there.

    Scandals in sports aren’t new. Think, for example of the black
    sox scandal in the 1919 world series, after which baseball
    appointed Judge Landis to clean up the sport. Not long after,
    Grantland Rice, then the dean of American sportswriters wrote,
    “For when the One Great Scorer comes
    To mark against your name,
    He writes – not that you won or lost –
    But how you played the Game.”
    Even now, some of us take those words seriously. But we’re
    the (starry-eyed?) minority.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Around the Gymternet: I carried a watermelon | The Gymternet

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