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Four Major Sponsors Abandon USA Gymnastics
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Four major sponsors have withdrawn their sponsorships of USA Gymnastics amid the ongoing sexual abuse scandal consuming USAG and continued criticism of the federation's response.

Four major sponsors have withdrawn their sponsorships of USA Gymnastics amid the ongoing sexual abuse scandal consuming USAG and continued criticism of the federation's response.

P&G, Kellogg's and Hershey's declined to renew their sponsorships that expired in 2017 and 2016, respectively, it was revealed on Thursday. On Friday, it was reported that apparel company Under Armour had canceled the contract it signed in 2013 that was supposed to last through the 2020 Olympic Games.

"We will evaluate whether to renew our partnership next spring, in light of our longer term priorities and continued actions on their part," a representative P&G told The Washington Post on Thursday.

The multinational corporations P&G and Kellogg's were the two top corporate sponsors of USA Gymnastics over the past decade. The U.S. elite national gymnastics championships had been rebranded the "P&G Championships" for the company, which also sponsored the U.S. Classic competition through its brands CoverGirl (2009-11) and Secret (2012-16). P&G, which earned more than $65 billion in revenue in 2016, is one of the largest sponsors of the United States Olympic Committee. Kellogg's, a food manufacturing company that earned $13 billion in revenue in 2016, sponsored USAG's post-Olympic gymnastics tours in 2012 and 2016.

USA Gymnastics, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, has been accused of ignoring and enabling sexual abuse of gymnasts through allegations that first appeared in The Indianapolis Star in July 2016. The Indianapolis Star's investigative series alleged that for decades, the organization had repeatedly failed to act when notified of accusations of sexual abuse by gymnastics coaches. In September 2016, news broke that former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar, now 54, had been sexually abusing gymnasts under the guise of treatment, abuse that included digital vaginal and anal penetration with ungloved hands, from at least 1996 to 2015. According to victim statements, Nassar's abuse occurred frequently at the Karolyi ranch in Texas, the USA Gymnastics national team training center, as well as when he traveled with the team for world championships and the Olympic Games.


McKayla Maroney at the 2013 Secret Classic, sponsored by the P&G brand.

Over the past 15 months, Olympians Jamie Dantzscher (2000), McKayla Maroney (2012), Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas (2012 and 2016), 1999 world team member Jeanette Antolin and five-time rhythmic national champion are among dozens of gymnasts who have come forward to report being abused by Nassar. Nassar, who left USA Gymnastics in 2015, was indicted in December 2016 under federal charges relating to child pornography, while the state of Michigan simultaneously pursued charges against him for assaults in at least two counties. Nassar was stripped of his medical license by Michigan in April and pleaded guilty to the federal charges in May. After initial pleas of not guilty, and insisting his treatment was medically justified, Nassar changed his pleas to guilty on November 22 in Ingham County, Michigan and November 29 in Eaton County, , Michigan, admitting for the first time that he had abused young girls for his own sexual gratification. On December 7, he was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the federal charges, a sentence his attorney's appealed on Wednesday. In January, he will be sentenced on the state charges of sexual assault, which he will serve prior to any federal sentence.

USAG and some of its former leaders are defendants in multiple lawsuits from former gymnasts. More than 140 gymnasts have filed various lawsuits against Nassar, USA Gymnastics and Nassar's former employer, Michigan State University, and Bela and Marta Karolyi. MSU, where Nassar worked as a team physician and medical professor, has been accused of repeatedly ignoring multiple complaints about Nassar's abuse dating to 1997. In February, MSU suspended its longtime women's gymnastics head coach Kathy Klages — who announced her retirement the next day — after it was alleged that she told gymnasts who complained to her not to say anything about Nassar's abuse.

USA Gymnastics's response to the scandal has been criticized as woefully inadequate, and many top former gymnasts (including those not abused by Nassar) have demanded resignations of USAG leaders. Nassar quietly left the organization in 2015; USA Gymnastics states he was fired while he stated he was allowed to resign. He continued working as a doctor at MSU and in private clubs for more than a year. When Dantzscher, Howard and Antolin appeared on 60 Minutes on February 19 in their first nationally televised interview, the organization launched a social medal campaign designed to bolster its public image, a move that backfired badly with fans and members. Later the federation worked to distance itself from Nassar and insist it had no knowledge or culpability in his behavior.

The organization firmly backed its leader Steve Penny, who took over as CEO in 2005, despite considerable criticism of his behavior and attitude toward allegations of abuse. According to one lawsuit, it has been alleged that Rhonda Faehn, the women's program director at USAG, informed Penny of sexual abuse allegations against Nassar in June 2015, but that Penny failed to report the allegations to law enforcement until five weeks later. The board of USA Gymnastics, including Chairman Paul Parilla and former Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton, issued a statement strongly defending Penny. He resigned as CEO in March only after United States Olympic Committee's board voted to recommend his resignation to USA Gymnastics several days earlier; he walked away with more than $1 million in severance pay. (Penny is personally being sued for negligence.)

USA Gymnastics finally named a new CEO, sports executive Kerry Perry, on November 11. Perry, who has no experience in gymnastics beyond being a self-described "lifelong fan," began her role on December 1.

On December 7, the same day that Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal court, USA Gymnastics' lawyers filed a brief in a U.S. District Court in Michigan stating that lawsuits against USAG concerning Nassar should be dismissed. According to the brief, USAG contends that it was not required to notify MSU about allegations regarding Nassar after he left the organization in 2015, stating, "USAG had no legal duty to protect plaintiffs from Nassar's criminal conduct."

The lawsuit in Michigan against Nassar and MSU includes 141 plaintiffs, 93 of whom are also suing USAG. Twelve have alleged that Nassar assaulted them at the Karolyi ranch.

"Nassar's conduct is disgusting, and USAG deplores Nassar's crimes. But Nassar, not USAG, is liable for Nassar's criminal actions," attorney Andrew Portinga wrote in court documents filed in Grand Rapids.

USA Gymnastics is also being sued in California as well. Paul Parilla, father of two-time Olympic trampolinist Jennifer Parilla, remains as chairman of the board of USAG despite shocking behavior during a deposition in Irvine, California, this past year in which he used called attorney John Manly, who represents Jamie Dantzscher and other victims, an expletive and "stormed out of the room."

Last fall, USAG backed out of a planned deal to buy the Karolyi ranch but has apparently made no concrete steps to find a new training facility. Even prior to the revelation that the ranch was the site of sexual abuse, the facility has been criticized as being too isolated and frightening. (One former prominent American gymnast described it as feeling "like a prison" while a former Olympic coach stated he wanted to see it "burned to the ground.") However, the Karolyi ranch remains the site of all national camps for women. Only this past week, USAG announced that it was discussing "outreach to communities interested in partnering in the development of new facilities and location for the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center."

Since the sex abuse scandal broke last summer, USA Gymnastics has not admitted any liability on its part at any time, not unusual of a defendant in an active lawsuit. In careful language, the organization has repeatedly claimed that it plans to "strengthen" and "improve" its policies. The organization amemded its bylaws during a December 9 meeting.

Raisman, among others, has used her voice to call for serious changes in the sport to stop the culture of fear and abuse that enables predators.

"We need to change the cycle of abuse," Raisman wrote December 7. "We need to change the systems that embolden sexual abusers. We must look at the organizations that protected Nassar for years and years: USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic committee and Michigan State University. Until we understand the flaws in their systems, we can't be sure something like this won't happen again. This problem is bigger than Larry Nassar. Those who looked the other way need to be held accountable too. I fear that there are still people working at these organizations who put money, medals and reputation above the safety of athletes."

In August, at the P&G Championships in Anaheim, Dantzscher called out sponsor Procter & Gamble to assist in the changes needed. Dantzscher is among those who have called for changes on the board, specifically, for the ouster of USAG Chairman Parilla, Vice Chairman Jay Binder and Treasurer Bitsy Kelley.

"It's not that they just did nothing, they went even further and they protected, they protect sexual abusers," Dantzscher said August 17. "And they try to conduct business as usual like everything is going to be fine. In my mind, they think they're invincible because they've been getting away with it for so long."

On Thursday, a P&G representative told The Washington Post that it plans to re-evaluate its sponsorship of USA Gymnastics next spring, "in light of our longer term priorities and continued actions on their part," "But we want to ensure all voices who have been affected by abuse have been heard and that USAG takes all measures necessary to address such vitally important issues."

Note: This article was updated to include Under Armour and Hershey's among the sponsors that have ended sponsorships with USA Gymnastics.

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