The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – January 23, 2018

It’s a special Tuesday edition of Things Are Happening because it turns out a lot of things are happening, even since last Friday, and let’s be honest, I’m afraid I’m going to forget some of them if I wait all the way until this Friday, by which point Martha and Valeri will have been arrested for murder in the lost city of Atlantis. Which we’ll have to break down in detail.

A. The Board

This week (yeah only this week and not 17 years ago) the big three on the USAG board of directors resigned their positions. That’s the chairman Paul Parilla, vice chairman Jay Binder, and treasurer Bitsy Kelley.

Obviously, the first issue we have to address is what is Bitsy short for? Itsy Bitsy Spider? Because there’s your problem right there.

Sending Paul, Jay, and Itsy Bitsy Spider up the water spout was a necessary move. The whole hideous way this was (not) handled by the organization—the obsessive focus on protecting the financial and public reputation of the organization rather than the athletes— wasn’t exclusively a Steve Penny joint, and others in positions of leadership must be held responsible. This appears to have been driven by the USOC’s displeasure with how much bad press they’re getting USAG not taking responsibility—though Aly is none too happy about the USOC suddenly trying to play the “yeah, USA Gymnastics is a total butthead, amiright? We’re at the cool kids table like Aly” role in all of this.

Removing the board leadership is another necessary step (of many), and one that can be cathartic because it feels like the baddies are getting their comeuppance, but we’re also clearly still in the punishment phase rather than the progress phase. And those are different. These people weren’t the first. It wasn’t just Steve Penny; it was Bob Colarossi before him. It wasn’t just Paul Parilla; it was Peter Vidmar before him. And on and on down the line. If USAG simply appoints another Vidmar/Parilla to take over the board under the guise of “A FRESH START,” then no progress has been made and we’re right back to where we were.

None of us have enough faith in USAG at this point to think that won’t happen.

That’s the impetus behind the push for an investigation (a real investigation, not a Fran investigation)—and stronger legal requirements—so that specific rules can be put in place to prevent every little thing that happened here from ever happening again. It can’t be enough simply to say, “we think we’ve chosen someone of good character” as Parilla’s successor because psssssh. You don’t know that, and no one believes you anyway. The only way you can ensure that the next board leadership doesn’t pull the same thing is if you make it impossible. With RULES. And LAWS. Many very specific rules and laws. Otherwise everyone will continue being garbage.

B. GED OUT

Speaking of human garbage, John “award-winning gym” Geddert has been suspended by USAG because of his literally everything about him.

In addition to the whole enabling-Nassar thing, we learned more about Geddert this week as Lindsey Lemke, mother of fire emojis, shared some fun little anecdotes about Geddert dropping gymnasts in mid-air, hitting them with mats, and chucking ice at their heads. You know, coaching. Like a coach does. Or…no…not coach…what’s the word I’m looking for? Shit trench. That’s it. Like a shit trench does.

They ALL have these stories.

The positive here: USAG actually seems to be doing something about an awful coach, and is doing so publicly. This is new and different. And it only took multiple hundreds of victim statements.

The negatives here: “…has been suspended by USA Gymnastics until it completes an investigation.” Uh…no. Too soon. “USA Gymnastics” and “investigation” don’t get to go in the same sentence. We still fundamentally don’t believe you’re going to do the right thing when handling things internally.

Oh there’s more. Today, because it never stops, Geddert decided to announce that he’s retiring. That’s convenient. He had been planning to retire this whole time, you guys. He totally would be retiring even if he hadn’t been suspended.

No. No no no. You don’t get off that easily. You don’t get to slink to the shadows. This has moved beyond USAG, anyway. Geddert’s behavior is a law-enforcement issue at this point. You don’t get to “retire” from that.

Interestingly, one of the last actions of the board of directors last month before the leadership was blown up was to institute the Don Peters rule, which states that if a permanently ineligible member retains an ownership interest in a club, that club loses its member status. So, if Geddert is ultimately added to the PIM list, he has to give up his ownership in the gym for it to remain a USAG member. (I’m sure there are 1500 loopholes in that, but still…)

And USAG, Geddert is far from the only Geddert. You don’t get to do one and then be done. It has to be everyone.

C. Mattie

For some reason (…I can’t think why…), this transitions nicely to Mattie Larson, who delivered her victim impact statement today.

“I can’t even put into words how much I fucking hate you.”

You knew Mattie wasn’t going to refrain from bringing the flames. She’s another one who got bounced from awful-to-awful-to-awful and had to deal with all of them one after the other after the other.

Few are better suited to detail the horrors of the ranch than Mattie, who was so traumatized by it that she tried to give herself a concussion to get out of going. Mattie also rightly addresses the lack of proximity to a hospital and the lack of phone service, both of which contributed to creating the culture of powerlessness where athletes became completely reliant on their tormentors and had no recourse but to fear and obey.

The amount of hateful stupid perpetrated by so many people here continues to be hard to fathom. What should be an exciting dream of going to the Olympics becomes a tool of exploitation and manipulation by so many others. Gymnastics HAS to cool it on the Olympics. That HAS to be a priority of whatever comes after this incarnation of USAG. What comes next must have a closer relationship with college gymnastics, because THAT is the pot of gold at the end of youth gymnastics, not the Olympics.

(I also think the vicious unhealthiness of “never be a quitter” culture is at play for a lot of miserable gymnasts in general, though that may be a topic for another time. But also, PLEASE QUIT. If you hate it, PLEASE QUIT. Your happiness has value and doing what you think you’re supposed to do is not worth being miserable.)

Mattie also addresses the complicity of Debbie van Horn, the athletic trainer and supposed chaperone for medical treatment, and of Valeri in contributing to the atmosphere of isolation, shunning, and general lack of basic humanity at 2010 worlds.

On that note, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the whole idea that Valeri has volunteered WOGA as a temporary replacement for national team camps. Uh…so it can be Ranch Part 2? Thanks, but no.

They still don’t get it. It’s not one person or one place. It’s all of you, always, everywhere.

When USAG does resume camps, which we know will happen, it must be in a neutral, open venue. Seclusion may have its focus-aiding virtues, but no. Too bad. You have lost your privacy privileges. If you truly have nothing to hide, then you shouldn’t mind opening the doors. There also must be a full-time standards and practices person at every camp, who outranks all coaches and national staff, whose sole job is to say, “You can’t do that. You can’t go over there with an athlete. You can’t be alone with an athlete in that room. You can’t talk to an athlete this way. You can’t do this. You can’t do that.” The coaches would hate it. Good.

D. AT&T

So, AT&T suddenly decided that USAG is bad? AT&T joins nearly all the other sponsors who have already done the same, likely realizing that in a little over a month it was about to have its name plastered all over a USA Gymnastics competition, and that probably wouldn’t look great. Or, uhhhhh, because they care. Sure. That. OK.

Don’t worry USAG. I’m sure you can find another title sponsor that better aligns with your corporate values. I, for one, am very much looking forward to the Hobby Lobby American Cup, brought to you by The Weinstein Company.

E. GymCastic

This week’s episode is out early, featuring the triumphant return of Uncle Tim, as well as our discussion of the victim impact statements from the first week of sentencing, the closure of the ranch, and Geddert.

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