Steve Penny has resigned as president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, following allegations that the organization failed to properly protect its athletes from sexual abuse.
Penny's resignation came following significant pressure for him to leave the post he had held since 2005. Last week, the U.S. Olympic Committee notified the board of directors of USAG that it wanted Penny's resignation. A growing number of former athletes and members of the gymnastics community had also sought Penny's resignation, and an online petition was created calling for his departure. Earlier this week, International Gymnastics Camp announced it was pulling its sponsorship of USAG over the scandal.
Steve Penny has resigned as president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, it was announced Thursday.
California attorney John Manly, who is representing more than 70 women currently suing former team doctor Larry Nassar and USAG, sent a letter to the USOC asking it to strip USA Gymnastics of its certification as the national governing body for gymnastics.
During Penny's tenure as president of USAG, the organization attracted numerous high-level corporate sponsors, and the U.S. women's team began dominating the sport. However, an investigation by the Indianapolis Star that began in August last year revealed a troubling pattern in the organization's handling of sexual abuse allegations, including failure to report incidents to the police. Coaches continued to work at USAG-affiliated clubs despite USAG having been notified of their behavior. According to the Star investigation, USAG had received complaints about more than 50 coaches and merely filed the complaints in a drawer, taking no action.
Reports of sexual abuse have long predated Penny's presidency, but some overlapped with him leading the organizations. Allegations that former Olympic coach Don Peters had raped one of his gymnasts in the 1980s was revealed in 2008. Marvin Sharp, coach of 2009 world champion Bridget Sloan and USAG Coach of the Year for 2010, was arrested in 2015 on charges of sexual assault and child pornography; Sharp died in his jail cell in September 2015 in a reported suicide.
Numerous lawsuits have been filed against the organization, including Penny personally, alleging he had failed to do due diligence regarding allegations of sexual abuse and ignored reports against coaches, including Sharp. The scandal deepened in September 2016 when it was revealed that long-time USAG women's team doctor Larry Nassar had been allegedly masking sexual abuse as treatment, using his ungloved fingers to sexually assault young gymnasts around the country and student-athletes at Michigan State University, where he worked as a team physician and lecturer. As of this week, more than 80 gymnasts have reportedly now come forward to file complaints. Nassar was fired from his position at USAG in 2015, but the allegations against him were not revealed until 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantszcher filed a Jane Doe lawsuit against him and the organization. 1999 World team member Jeanette Antolin and rhythmic gymnastics national champion Jessica Howard have also come forward to publicly discuss their alleged assaults by Nassar many years ago. The three gymnasts spoke to 60 Minutes in February, revealing how they were allowed to be alone during treatment with Nassar, which included alleged assaults taking place in the gymnasts' sleeping quarters at the Karolyi ranch in Texas, the national team training center for the U.S. women.
Nassar's departure from USAG after nearly 30 years was not publicized in 2015. It was later revealed that USAG officials waited five weeks before notifying law enforcement of the allegations against Nassar, who now faces multiple charges of criminal sexual misconduct in Michigan, as well as federal charges of possession and creation of child pornography. He was also fired from Michigan State, which is also facing numerous lawsuits and criticism over its handling regarding complaints against Nassar. Kathie Klages, the longtime Michigan State coach, was forced to resign amid revelations that she had failed to take action after gymnasts on her team had informed her of alleged assaults by Nassar conducting supposed "pelvic manipulation." (Nassar's defense attorney has claimed the treatment is a valid osteopathic treatment.)
The reports by the Star were so troubling that California Senator Dianne Feinstein has sponsored legislation requiring all amateur athletic organizations and its members to be mandatory reporters after hearing any allegations of abuse. Mandatory reporting is already required by law in numerous areas, including schools and hospitals, where employees must immediately contact law enforcement upon any allegation of abuse.
USAG issued a statement on Penny's resignation on Thursday afternoon. Chairman of the Board Paul Parilla said, "We have accepted Steve's resignation and want to thank him for his contributions and dedication to USA Gymnastics over the years. The Board believes this change in leadership will help USA Gymnastics face its current challenges and implement solutions to move the organization forward in promoting a safe environment for its athletes at all levels."
USAG stated it will begin a search for a new president and CEO and that Parilla will take over Penny's roles in the interim.
USAG also issued a statement on behalf of Penny, who has been named as a co-defendant in multiple lawsuits.
"My decision to step aside as CEO is solely to support the best interests of USA Gymnastics at this time," he said. "We all care deeply about the safety of our athletes, which is fundamental to a rewarding experience at any level of gymnastics. It has been heartbreaking to learn of instances of abuse and it sickens me that young athletes would be exploited in such a manner."