Things Are Happening – January 25, 2018

A. 175 years

Obviously this one’s going in the file.

We have a lot of uses for this.

Following more than an entire week of victim impact statements, Rosemarie the Destroyer handed down what was ultimately the least important part of the sentencing proceedings, the actual sentence, reinforcing that That Guy will spend the rest of his life in prison with the eye-catching number of 175 years attached to it, in addition to the 60 federal years.

What was far more important, of course, were the statements themselves, the opportunity for survivors to have a literal voice and be heard and respected and believed—but also, symbolically, the opportunity to show gymnasts as a whole that they might finally have a voice in a program where having a voice and an opinion is taught as a sin, as disrespectful. Good gymnasts don’t talk back. Good gymnasts don’t chat with or smile at their teammates during competition. Good gymnasts go to training even after falling off the top bunk. Good gymnasts don’t make “trouble.” Good gymnasts are blank.

To the USA Gymnastics elite women’s program, blankness is a virtue. Don’t say anything. Don’t do anything. Don’t think anything. It’s dressed up as “focus,” the focus necessary to perform under pressure. But really it’s control. And condescension. It’s saying, “These young women, they’re too flighty and distracted and emotional to succeed, so we have to change them.” It’s saying, “Your personality is a weakness, so it must be removed.”

And they wonder why the ranch was a toxic hell for so many, why it was a breeding ground for abuse, why we keep yammering on about the “culture” at USAG. “Everything about you is wrong. You are nothing, you are lucky to be here, you are not to speak. BUT WHY DIDN’T YOU SPEAK UP?!?!”

We all always laugh about how boring and repetitive and empty the interviews given by US elites are, but the lack of voice, the fear of having a thought, the very intentional state of ignorance US elites are kept in is evidence of a much more serious problem than just bad interviews.

Remember what a REVOLUTION it was when Simone was allowed to, like, talk? And smile? And look at things that no one had given her express written consent to look at? It’s still so sad to think that it was special. That Simone being allowed to be a person was something to be envied rather than…well yeah, duh, what else?

Beyond putting Nassar away, and forcing punishment for criminal behavior and (hopefully) change in the rules and procedures at all the associated organizations, I hope that the victim impact statements and their wide, mainstream dispersal will permeate the voices of gymnasts everywhere to tell their stories, to say what they believe, and know that questioning what you’re told, questioning those in control, and being a total pain each and every day is a virtue not a vice, and those who try to silence that are not your supporters.

We’ve got your backs.

B. The axe

As I discussed on Tuesday, we’re still squarely in the punishment phase rather than the progress phase, but the punishment phase is ramping up quickly. Lou Anna Simon is out at Michigan State (just one of MANY who must be held accountable at MSU, like its own board that aggressively didn’t care), Debbie van Horn is no longer employed as the athletic trainer at USAG, and Fran “I’m just an interviewer” Sepler is no longer a member of the SafeSport board.

The poison is being sucked out, but we know too much to be optimistic. Every news organization and senator that is worried about turning out the lady vote really definitely cares about justice is calling for A BIG INVESTIGATION that will HOLD PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE, and all of that would be great. Please. Do it. It’s forcing these organizations into publicly confronting their evils as the rats scamper over each other to be the first ones out of the kitchen, but where will all this sudden transparency go next month, and the month after that? Public shaming burns bright but expires quickly. It can’t be the only driving force. Transparency and accountability must be codified.

The USOC continues to attempt to walk a fairly laughable line of conveniently starting to care publicly and issue statements about how much trouble everyone else is in, without admitting its own negligence and responsibility in this case. If the leadership at USAG must be held responsible for what happened under its watch, then how does that not translate to holding the USOC accountable for what happened at USAG under its watch? At the same time, cleaning house, an independent investigation, and the threat of decertification are necessary, positive steps. But, just, where was this in 2016?

We shouldn’t still be at the “if you don’t shape up, we might decertify” stage. That stage should have come a long time ago.

C. Elite qualifiers

Continuing the “how do we even feel about this?” parade of bizarre, there will be two elite optional qualifiers in the coming week, one at Desert Lights this weekend and one at Buckeye next week, where gymnasts will compete to attempt to get the qualifying score for U.S. Classic and……maybe get invited to the national camps? Yay? Is that a good thing?

I wonder what the atmosphere around those attempting to qualify elite this year is. Well, actually, I don’t wonder because I’m sure everyone is just doing business as usual and pretending nothing is happening and keeping the blinders on the race horses, I mean gymnasts, because that’s healthy. No problems here!

But you have to think more than a few gymnasts, coaches, and families have had more than a few “Why would I even want this?” moments in the last couple weeks.


26 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – January 25, 2018”

  1. Spencer, I did not know how much I needed you in my life until you were here. I think American gymnastics will soon feel the same way. Thank you for writing this and thank you for your part in all of this – I don’t think it was trivial.

  2. Yes indeed. The whole saga is just beginning.

    Does anyone else think that the Karolyi’s saw the writing on the wall and that was why they retired? NBC fawned over him and Marta for so long – it’s repugnant, now, thinking about it. Listening to that commentary back – ew! And that TV special on him and Marta at the ranch and how wonderful it all was, world leading even. Ecaterina Szabo and Emilia Eberle accused them of abuse back in 2008, when they trained with him and Marta in the early 1980s and he said ‘I’m not even going to comment; these people really are trash.’ Sick sick sick.

    I for one hope that him and Marta are both hauled before the courts and made to explain why they did nothing to stop Nassar when they HAD to know. Everything was under their control at the ranch, of course they knew. And then, held accountable for enabling the offending to take place.

    I was also sickened to hear Mattie’s testimony about life at the ranch. Absolutely disgusting – and this was held up as something to aspire to? Something that was a good thing? The Karolyis need to be held accountable for what happened at the ranch, and at USAG while they were in charge, right back to 1984 with Mary Lou, and NBC and others were fawning over them as the saving grace of USAG. There have been abuse claims against them going back a long, long way. Why were they not relieved of their positions long before 2016?

    Oh, that’s right. I guess it’s all fine as long as you’re winning gold medals. Seems like that’s really all USOC and USAG really care about. My two cents.

    1. Tied up in that is Tim Dagger, sort of. I feel like of all the NBC commentators now and in the past, he was the most loudly pro-Karolyi on air. I know the public opinion doesn’t matter THAT much, but I can’t help but wonder if the Karolyis were bolstered by the legend he helped them propagate. I’m not saying I think he did this knowingly – I just think Tim could do with having a look at whether maybe he should be more circumspect in trumpeting people who may not be so wholesome.

      More broadly, I do wonder if maybe NBC commentary could cool it on the body talk and the “she has good lines/is skinny” talk. I know, I know, lines are A Thing, Aliya has Lines and is not Skinny ™, whatever – but lines Vs thin is a fine distinction even when applied correctly and most of the public doesn’t really get it. I think they and probably a lot of competing athletes just hear “be thin” from all that.

      Just a couple things NBC could do right imo. Also get rid of Al, but I mean, duh.

      1. The lines comments drive me crazy. The college commentators do it for SEC/ESPN meets too. I’d say 95% of the time it’s in reference to a taller thin gymnast. Yes, lines are a thing, but I wish they would cut out the discussions about body shape and size.

      2. The pro-Karolyi thing definitely is not a Tim Dagget thing, it’s a “we’re an American broadcasting company who will naturally have a little bias toward America” kind of thing. The Karolyis created one of the most dominant systems ever created (which we now know came at an insurmountable price) so of course they would try to glorify that. The lines talk doesn’t bother me at all. Lines doesn’t apply to just those who are skinny. Aliya Mustafina for example is not skinny, but still has fantastic lines as they call it, as you said. Lines usually applies to those who have natural swing, and who are above 5 ft tall. And even if it does imply skinny I don’t think it even matters that much to be honest. Like I doubt a gymnasts is going to hear “so and so has great lines” and then will be like “time to rush to a treadmill and run until I puke so I can get good lines!” Eating disorders don’t start from something that pedantic, nor would it break the straw on the camels back if it were an accumulation of different things that would start an eating disorder. And NBC is beginning to faze out Al (who wasn’t even on the broadcasting team at worlds) for John Roethlisberger which has been great.

      3. Zyxcba I was wondering how wrong this comment could be and then I saw you wrote it. Super shocked.

    1. USAG posted the letter directed to them from the USOC on their website. It says by Jan. 31st. (you can access this from the homepage)

    2. Aren’t some of the board members rather new? This seems like an attempt to save face.

      A Board has power and makes big corporate decisions, but typically the day-to-day business is run by those execs present on site (ie your VPs). Why is no one talking about anyone at USAG outside of the Board? At this point, I would just like to see a full independent investigation. Let’s see who knew what and when before we start getting rid of everyone.

  3. I’m still trying to find the identity of the coach who in 2015 reported the abuse to USGA brass. I realize that his or her actions were not enough, but as this coach was the first non-parent/athlete adult to register official disapproval for Nassar’s actions, I’d like to at least be able to be thankful for him/her by name.

    1. Was she actually the first? I know she was the “recent” complaint that led to a formal investigation, but I didn’t think it was the first. The prior ones were just ignored or USAG held them to be false.

      I feel like nothing happened until Faehn got hired. Sarah went to Rhonda and then the investigation took place. It’s just conjecture, but Faehn looks like someone who should also be applauded if she was the one who finally took action at USAG.

      1. There have been a lot of shitty things (rightfully) said about USAG, but to the best of my knowledge, there have not been any accusations that they ignored complaints about Nassar or considered any reports of him to be false. They did consider that the information from Maggie and Aly wasn’t enough to go to the police, which is a different problem, but all of the information reported publicly was that Maggie and Sarah were the first to report Nassar to USAG, they acted on that report (by doing the investigation instead of going to the police), but did not treat it as a false report.

      2. I thought USAG received complaints dating back to the 1990s??? What happened to those reports? It seems like they were either ignored or deemed insufficient to take action.

      3. Responding to the 9:47 am Anonymous comment – MSU was the organization that received complaints dating back to the 90s, not USAG. USAG has hidden other child abusers (of many types) under the rug, created a culture where Nassar could thrive, didn’t report him to law enforcement immediately, and didn’t notify MSU or Michigan police what he had done, thus letting him continue to molest who knows how many girls. But on the charge of ignoring complaints about Nassar, I think they are actually in the clear. When they received the complaints about Nassar, they took them seriously. At least they did after their internal investigation. Perhaps it was because Maggie had her coach supporting her. Perhaps it was because Rhonda was involved, as so many people want to give her credit for everything. I don’t know if we will ever know.

  4. You are such an amazing writer and a great human being. The first section of this post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for making a difference and blessing so many of us with your thoughts, information, humor, and integrity. 🙂

  5. Love reading and listening Spencer!! 🙂 – Just a little comment about the commentating on international meets from the USA – I’m from the UK and I always remember Elfie(?) making negative comments about the Chinese system and how strict they are and basically removed their personalities. Surely this is just what the US have done!

    1. I think nearly all of the elite systems, if not all of them, do this to some regard. The Karolyis came from an abusive system. I’m not sure why people thought that them merely stepping on American soil would change their ways.

      The Nassar situation is a huge shock and disappointment. But no gymnastics fan can actually say with a straight face that they are completely shocked at some of the allegations of abusive training methods. It happens every where in every sport, but gymnastics always seemed to have that reputation.

  6. My coaching technique was criticized back in the day! I was told that I needed to “motivate” them or they would be taken away from me and given to a coach that will produce “results”. So, out of fear I sold myself out. I became a hard-ass. While I’m ashamed and feel guilty even now, I refused to berate, body shame or take their voice away! My girls came to me with all sorts of issues, gym, life, parents etc… They were even so brave as to confront me and tell me how they would prefer to be coached. I listened. and thank god!! These were some smart girls!!! Also, 5 of them remain my best friends until this day!!! Positive coaching is possible. If I had to do over again I would have stuck to my guns on this. Its time to change this culture.

  7. I’m sorry but I have to believe that Rhonda Faehn knew what was going on at some level. I think everyone at USAG, including her, should be replaced. I don’t buy that she is some heroine in this piece. She is very cozy with the Karolyis and was at the ranch extensively during the 2016 Olympic selection process. She had to know about this culture, hell, she came up through it.

    1. But Nassar was removed after Nichols’ coach went to Rhonda. Maybe she knew before? But it seems like USAG did nothing until Rhonda came on board and got the complaint from Maggie and Sarah. USAG settled with Maroney; thus, they knew prior to Rhonda and did nothing. This is mere speculation as I don’t know what happened (very few really do).

      Also, in today’s age everyone is quick to judge and say everyone is guilty and should be fired. Let the investigations play out. Find out facts before you throw out accusations than can ruin people’s lives. Sam Peszek said she received threats from people because she hadn’t publically talked about it. That’s ridiculous. Social media can create a ton of positive change, but it can also quickly devolve into an echo chamber for people shouting angrily without facts.

      1. I think USAG settled with Maroney in the intervening period between USAG’s internal investigation/report to the FBI in 2015, and the story going public in 2016. Not gonna comment on Rhonda specifically because I really don’t know, but I have heard some things that really make me question the assumption that no-one at USAG knew anything before 2015; in fact my money is on this having been known as early as 2000. USAG’s long-standing policy was that they would not go to the police without a signed statement from a victim or witness and if one couldn’t be obtained before 2015 for whatever reason they may have just chosen to ignore it like they did so many other reports.

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