Although Steve Penny finally resigned on March 16, the fact that it took him so long to make that decision only reflects on how very bad the environment is within USA Gymnastics. Remember, it took a very strong threat from the USOC after the Board of Directors appeared to be favoring Penny’s retention over the plight of the assaulted gymnasts who were victimized during his term. With almost no one ever taking responsibility for problems or failures, the spotlight is blinding on the subject of a complete overhaul. It’s time to raise the bar on our expectations for objective and transparent leadership.
Steve Penny resigned as president of USA Gymnastics on March 16.
Our sport reeks with intimidation, cronyism and brown-nosing gone crazy. Add in too much use of the Peter Principle and “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours,” and you have the perfect storm for what has happened lately. Plus, the Board of Directors is completely impotent! I attended a Board meeting years ago and was completely blown away with how little discussion there was on some really important issues. At that meeting, I was the only vote to not give Penny a significant bonus for a year of rather average finishes on the international level and no new revenues added. The Board has become a stamping device for the administration. This must stop right now because we presently have proof that no or little honest oversight can be a culture for complete disaster. And this fungus at the top trickles down very quickly.
For many years, we have had to tolerate the secrecy of the women’s elite program. In fact, I’m not sure who first coined the phrase, “What happens here, stays here.” Was it Las Vegas or the Karolyi Ranch? Why did it have to be so closed to the outside world? Why did people have to lie when leaks were discovered?
A perfect example is when, in Rio, I exposed the fact the Laurie Hernandez had a minor stomach muscle pull that had prevented her from training bars at the same level as the other team members; hence, she was not given an all-around spot on the team. Everybody went wild to the extent that Laurie and her coach, Maggie Haney, whom I adore, made a statement that my report was completely false. Soon after, Marta Karolyi acknowledged the injury in a press conference, and Laurie herself stated in her book, “And having a small muscle strain in my stomach didn’t help me.” What kind of environment does it take to get people to lie about things like this? Certainly not an advantageous one. Plus, this climate, where people put themselves above the truth, is perfect for someone like Larry Nassar to flourish. We are at the point where most people don’t know what reality is.
At the American Cup this year, I was astonished when a person from another magazine told me how surprised he was that we were discussing the sexual abuse scandal on our various media platforms. He related that they were not reporting anything for fear of losing their “in” with the federation. Really!
Also, many of you might not remember that Penny got contaminated with this culture while serving as the marketing person under Bob Colarossi. After Colarossi left, he served on the selection committee for his replacement. One candidate had served as the Vice President of Marketing for the NBA and later the marketing person for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City after the huge scandal there. That person told me that Colarossi took several cell phone calls during her interview! Not very classy! Was that interviewing process even necessary? The deal had already been made. And from there, Penny grew his salary to more that $600,000 a year. How can this happen? Can you imagine how much half of his salary could have impacted the division of our sport other than women’s artistic gymnastics?
I hear all the time about all the sponsors he has attracted. Please show me one sponsor that USAG has right now that wasn’t sold because of the target audience we have. AT&T, Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Secret, P&G, etc., are all based on what young girls want and need. The athletes have sold the sponsorships, not the federation office. Where is an automobile company? Where is a large insurance company? Where are the companies who want to be on board a well-run federation that’s producing athletes who will not only win medals, but also impact our society during their lifetime.
Please remember that $12+ million goes into the federation from memberships and event revenue that all of us support! All of us, athletes included, deserve better, honest and transparent leadership. Let’s demand more from those who wish to serve!
—Paul Ziert/IG Publisher