The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

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.


 

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