Why can’t Team USA gymnasts (and all female athletes, for that matter) catch a break lately?


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Photo: Getty Images/Bryan Bedder

Let’s say you run an embattled athletic organization, and the press is covering your sport using superlatives like “unprecedented” and “breathtaking.” Only, the words refer to legal troubles, not your athletes. And let’s say that the young female competitors—who are the sole reason for your professional being—have lined up, one by one, in a court of law, to describe horrific, sexually abusive treatment they received by the team doctor who was employed for decades.

What would you do?

If you’re on the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors, you pick an interim president with baggage. Baggage that triggers a firestorm of criticism from Olympic champions like Aly Raisman, which ultimately ends the new HBIC’s tenure after five days. Yes, five. And it all begs the question: Why are these athletes having to come to their own rescue, yet again?

Here’s what happened, specifically: Former US Congresswoman Mary Bono, who was appointed interim president October 12, has a history with the law firm that the athletes accuse of covering up the crimes of Larry Nassar, MD.

Dr. Nassar—who is believed to have molested hundreds of girls and young women, including Raisman’s Olympic teammates McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, and Madison Kocian—was sentenced in January to 40 to 175 years in prison for multiple sex offenses. Bono didn’t personally work on the case, but come on. How in the world did the organization think that hiring her would earn back the gymnasts’ trust?

What must a bunch of America’s sweethearts do to get some respect?

As Raisman tweeted this week: “My teammates & I reported Nassar’s abuse to USAG in 2015. We know [the United States Olympic Committee] & lawyers at Faegre Baker Daniels (Mary 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?”

And, bonus: During her blink-and-you-missed-it tenure, Bono also managed to alienate the sport’s top athlete, Simone Biles, with a snarky, since-deleted tweet about Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign. “Mouth drop,” Biles, who is also a Nike athlete, tweeted in response. “Don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter USA Gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.”

Furthermore, as a reminder of the enormity of the original scandal, another transgression came to light during this banner week: Former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny was arrested over allegations that he tampered with evidence related to a Nassar investigation.

This means that as the justice system continues to sort out this mess, the organization that’s supposed to support these gymnasts is making new bad decisions on their behalf. Time after time, these athletes are left feeling blindsided and disrespected. These women, by the way, are the same ones who pulled off a gold-medal-winning streak in 2012 and 2016 that earned them a spot in the history books (and sports lovers’ hearts). So what must a bunch of America’s sweethearts do to get some respect?

Unfortunately, the feeling is something they share with female athletes in other sports. Take the US women’s soccer team—which won the World Cup in 2015 (and was projected to outearn the US men’s team in revenue). Despite the men’s team getting knocked out of contention early, the women were paid a fraction of the earnings. (Several members of the women’s team took the issue to court, filing a wage discrimination complaint to the Equal Employment Commission to get a better contract.)

And don’t get Serena Williams started on the topic of equal treatment from officials (too soon!). Arguably the GOAT doesn’t get the respect (and accompanying leeway) from officials that her male colleagues say they take for granted.

So how’s that Aretha-style R-E-S-P-E-C-T gonna materialize? The answer could be in another badass Aretha tune: “Sisters are Doin’ it for Themselves.”

When Raisman directed some serious righteous fury in Dr. Nassar’s direction during her testimony at his trial, she gave an inkling of the kind of advocate athletes deserve: “Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force and you are nothing? The tables have turned, Larry. We are here. We have our voices, and we are not going anywhere. And now, Larry, it’s your turn to listen to me.”

USA Gymnastics, are you listening? #Aly4prez.

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