Dear colleagues and friends,
My eight years as a USAG Board (and Finance Committee) member were among the most rewarding and educational experiences of my career. I very much aspired to making a contribution, and thoroughly enjoyed the “sturm und drang” of deliberative policy-making.
Having walked in your shoes, I understand your dilemma. You understand that there is a fiduciary responsibility that goes with your position, and because of the roiling sexual abuse issue, you know how exposed USAG is financially to lawsuits. You’ve hunkered down (presumably at the advice of lawyers), and are hoping to survive by taking incremental steps (Penny’s resignation and Safe Sport) to show that USAG is addressing the problem.
Perhaps you don’t recognize the gymnastics community’s breadth of outrage or collective disgust; I suspect you don’t understand the pent-up frustrations of the membership who have been shoddily treated by the office for many years.
The organization has lost its moorings; who knows what, if anything, USAG represents these days? There have, in fact, been so many compromises and abdication (read: surrender) of responsibility in the interests of expediency, many suspect that USAG no longer has any idea what it stands for.
• “Nothing is more important to USA Gymnastics than protecting young people.” (Feb/2017). What a ridiculous thing to say. Everyone knows that it’s simply not true and suggesting this erodes credibility.
• “Begin here, Go Anywhere.” What does this mean? It’s just some words cobbled together, presumably at the approval of some focus group. In my open letter to the gymnastics community, I wrote at length about leadership. Leaders do not need focus groups to know their core beliefs and purpose.
• “Win Medals, Increase Visibility, Grow the Sport.” Remember this? This is the real position of the current USAG. It’s not very appealing in today’s climate, is it?
How did it come to this? How has this been possible?
The Board has failed in its responsibility to the Organization. Like most crises, the slide has been gradual and incremental. The Board has been caving in to the office for 20 years and hasn’t had the guts to tell them: “you work for us, NOT the other way around.”
• the dogged resistance of “the office” to Board request (which eventually turned into a demand) that the Markel-Rhulen insurance contract be put out to bid? After three years of stonewalling, USAG received six bidders resulting in a $750/annum (1998 dollars) savings in premiums and office resentment that it had been forced into the process unwillingly
• the gradual reduction of office communication from packets totaling 200 pages quarterly to bi-annual to short summaries just before meetings
• the absurdity of having an office employee writing campaign letters in a Nat membership election on behalf of an employee of the CEO
• taking Nat Member election ballots away from Price Waterhouse and counting them “in-house”
• the controversy (and failed purge) over a former CEOs alleged inappropriate public behaviors
• the truncation of the Board and the misrepresentations presented as justification
• the “Friendship Classic” sanction incident, and the shameful manner in which a member (who proved correct on every point) was treated
• and more
Pretty stern stuff, I know. Note that thus far the discussion has identified failures of the “Board” and not individuals.
On December 8, 1941, the reaction of the President to the attack on Pearl Harbor was not to act unilaterally, but to request from Congress (his Board of Directors) permission for action. The Greatest Generation was not great because of some inherent skill or talent, but became great because of the will to respond to their crises with fortitude and courage. There is no constant but change. The past is past, but the future is an open-ended opportunity.
Our by-laws clearly state: “4.1 The business and affairs of the Corporation are the responsibility of the Board.” The Board is the highest authority and MUST regain control.
You 22 individuals comprising the Board can make change in the here and now. Stand up, take control, re-assert the authority invested in you by our constitution, or resign. ACT!
The Board must go public with an apology.
“USA Gymnastics is profoundly sorry for the pain and suffering the victims of child abuse in our sport have suffered, and deeply apologize for whatever organizational shortcomings have led us to these circumstances. USAG vows that this will be rectified and that never again can this happen on our watch.”
A new CEO must be identified, hired, and installed with all urgent deliberateness.
The most important attributes this individual must have are a vision of what the organization can and ought to be, an ability to articulate it, and the dogged tenacity required to change the culture so that this vision is realized.
USAG needs to identify what it stands for.
Thomas Jefferson wrote: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Let me help with this one. This is what USAG should be in rank order:
USAG must make a REAL commitment to service, not just corporate blather!
USAG was founded to and exists to meet the needs of its members; it should be axiomatic that we shall “under-promise and over-deliver” in all aspects of customer relations. Our membership IS USA Gymnastics and their well-being is always the business’s highest priority.
USA Gymnastics is, primarily, the steward of the sport. We have inherited a rich heritage and history and we owe it to both our progenitors and our posterity the best within us. We enjoy such abundant competitive (both marketplace and sporting) advantages that it is incumbent upon us to continue to nurture and develop these resources. This organization is the vehicle by which so many lives can be enriched; remain cognizant of that responsibility.
By identifying our cumulative strengths and implementing our collective talents, USAG will indeed be successful competitively. As my college coach Bob Peavy put it, “Winning is the by-product of doing everything else well.”
“USA Gymnastics: Service, Stewardship, Success.”
Jim Holt is a former USAG Board member and is widely recognized internationally for his passion for and commitment to the development of gymnastics worldwide. He is one of very few individuals to coach at 14 World Championships and is the only person in gymnastics history to represent seven different nations at that event (BAR, BOL, ECU, IND, IRI, NAM, YEM).