Still reeling from a years-long sexual abuse scandal and the ill-advised choice of a president and CEO who was forced to resign after nine months, even USA Gymnastics’ interim step didn’t go well.
Five days into the job, Mary Bono resigned as the governing body’s interim president and CEO on Tuesday, issuing a strongly worded statement in which she defended herself against what she termed “personal attacks” from the sport’s top stars, who questioned her suitability for the role.
Four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles was first to question Bono’s appointment, using her social-media platform to share a tweet that Bono had posted in September showing her using a black marker to cover up the Nike logo to voice displeasure with the company’s ad campaign built around social activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“[Don’t] worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything,” Biles wrote Saturday.
On Monday, six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman, whose forceful courtroom denouncement of former team doctor Larry Nassar helped send the serial child molester to jail for 40 to 175 years while empowering fellow victims, added her voice to those criticizing USA Gymnastics for tapping Bono as interim CEO from a law firm that had helped give Nassar cover during the investigation into his criminal behavior.
“My teammates & I reported Nassar’s abuse to USAG in 2015,” Raisman tweeted Monday. “We now know [the U.S. Olympic Committee] & lawyers at Faegre Baker Daniels [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?”
In announcing the appointment of Bono, 56, a Republican who served 15 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, USA Gymnastics’ Board of Directors hailed her as a strong leader and skilled executive, as well as a former gymnast and an advocate for anti-drug initiatives. Karen Golz, the board’s chair, called Bono “an outstanding communicator who can coalesce with people with differing views and perspectives.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Bono announced her resignation in a five-paragraph statement that stressed the credentials and commitment she would have brought to the job, given the chance.
“My withdrawal comes in the wake of personal attacks that, left undefended, would have made my leading USAG a liability for the organization,” Bono wrote. She went on to defend her work with Faegre Baker Daniels. And she appeared to backtrack on an apology for her anti-Nike tweet she had issued Saturday night, within hours of Biles’s criticism. At that time, she deleted the tweet and said she “deeply regret[-ted] posting the tweet.”
In stepping down Tuesday afternoon, Bono wrote: “With respect to Mr. Kaepernick, he nationally exercised his first amendment right to kneel. I exercised mine. . . . That one tweet has been made the litmus test of my reputation over almost two decades of public service.”
USA Gymnastics has stumbled badly in the aftermath of the Nassar scandal, in which more than 200 athletes in the U.S. gymnastics pipeline and at Michigan State said they were sexually abused under the guise of medical treatment.
Its first choice of president in the post-Nassar era, Kerry Perry, resigned after nine largely muzzled, ineffective months on the job. Among her decisions was hiring a coach who initially defended Nassar, Mary Lee Tracy, as coordinator of the elite team — a move Raisman called “a slap in the face” to survivors. Tracy was later asked to step down.