Aly Raisman took to social media Monday to blast a recent decision by USA Gymnastics to hire former congresswoman Mary Bono as the reeling organization’s interim president and chief executive officer. The Olympic gold medalist pointed out Bono’s connection to a law firm that Raisman said helped “cover up our abuse” by former USAG and Michigan State team doctor Larry Nassar.
“Clearly this is not a ‘new’ USAG. Same corrupt decisions,” Raisman said on Twitter. “Perhaps it’s because true accountability is less likely if authority is placed in the hands of someone similarly motivated to avoid it.”
Raisman was referring to the fact that Bono, who represented California’s 45th Congressional District from 1998 to 2013, subsequently went to work for a firm that had USAG as a client in 2015, when Nassar was quietly sidelined as an investigation began into his alleged sexual assaults of athletes, including young girls. According to reporting by the Indianapolis Star earlier this year, another member of the firm, Faegre Baker Daniels, worked with Nassar to come up with excuses for the doctor’s absence at two major events in 2015.
Nassar’s central role in an exploding scandal would not break into the open for another 14 months, during which he continued to work at Michigan State and committed more assaults. On Sunday, former gymnast Kaylee Lorincz replied to a Bono tweet related to her USAG appointment by saying, “You owe me an explanation of why you and your firm allowed Larry to abuse me in 2016 after you were well aware that he was abusing little girls.”
Raisman, who joined Lorincz and scores of other victims in giving statements detailing their experiences with Nassar’s abuse at a lengthy sentencing hearing in January at which he was given a term of 40 to 175 years, tweeted on Monday, “My teammates and I reported Nassar’s abuse to USAG in 2015. We now know [the U.S. Olympic Committee] and lawyers at Faegre Baker Daniels [Mary Bono’s firm] were also told then, yet Nassar continued to abuse children for 13 months!? Why hire someone associated with the firm that helped cover up our abuse?”
The USAG board of directors said in a statement provided Monday to the Indianapolis Star that Bono was not “counsel of record” for the work Faegre Baker Daniels did for the organization, noting that the firm is a large outfit with “a number of divisions and areas.” Faegre Baker Daniels said that it was involved in reporting Nassar to the FBI in the summer of 2015, calling that (per the Star) “a fact that refutes any claim of a cover up.”
The outcry from Raisman and Lorincz, among others, came shortly after Simone Biles, another Olympic gold medalist and survivor of Nassar’s abuse, criticized a September tweet from Bono in which the latter made a show of blacking out the Nike logo in a pair of golf cleats. That tweet followed the unveiling of a major Nike ad campaign featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and Biles pointed out that, in the wake of the Nassar scandal, USAG has lost many corporate partnerships.
Expressing a “mouth drop” at Bono’s tweet, Biles said in her own Twitter post, “Don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter USA Gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.” Bono, a member of the Republican Party while in Congress, subsequently deleted her tweet and posted another one Saturday in which she said, “I regret the post and respect everyone’s views and fundamental right to express them.”
“This doesn’t reflect how I will approach my position [at USAG],” Bono added, saying, “I will do everything I can to help build, with the community, an open, safe and positive environment.”
Some victims' advocates have expressed concern that law firms hired to advise national governing bodies such as USAG have tended to focus on limiting the organizations' exposure to potential litigation, rather than on steps that might greater emphasize protection of vulnerable athletes. To Raisman, the hiring of Bono was painful evidence that her sport’s governing body was still unwilling to fully reckon with the enormity of its misguided actions.
“Survivors, current gymnasts, families, coaches, gymnastics community and fans deserve better,” Raisman tweeted Monday. “We can’t move forward until we know exactly what happened. USAG take accountability, be transparent, release all your documents and data. PLEASE tell the truth. This is so devastating.”
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