The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – May 18, 2018

A. Rhonda

Root-dee-doo. Another ho-hum day in USAG land. Nothing to report here.

Or, except, no, it’s all on fire again. Last night, word came on Marz Frazier’s twitter (you know, where information comes from in an organization where everything’s going fine and the lines of communication are A-OK…) that Kerry Perry asked Rhonda Faehn to resign from her position as senior vice president. Today, Kerry Perry announced that Rhonda is out (not that Rhonda resigned as requested), while saying super transparent things like, “This is a personnel matter that we will not discuss in detail.”

And she only used empowered twice. Per sentence.

So a couple things with that. Maybe more than a couple.

1) Whether or not you agree with the public majority of current national team members who say they want Rhonda to stay (honestly both camps have valid arguments here), it’s seriously a problem when those inside the national team feel so ignored, misunderstood, and shut off from the seats of power that they have to turn to social media to get the organization’s attention. While it’s great if gymnasts actually feel they can express personal thoughts on social media and scream them from the rooftops nowadays, they shouldn’t have to.

It’s not a sign of good leadership. Decisions made, no matter how unpopular, need to be communicated, explained, and justified to those in the organization whom they affect the most. If people are running to social media in search of public justice, you aren’t doing your job and are responsible for any ensuing controversy. You made this happen.

And now we’ve learned this.


The good guys team doesn’t have to be a completely united front with one opinion. And conflicting goals (“I WANT TO COMPETE,” “I WANT JUSTICE”), even within the good guys team, are going to cause friction and upset and misplaced blame all around. That’s natural and, while certainly not ideal, fairly inevitable. It doesn’t mean thoughts need to be immediately removed if not part of “WHAT WE THINK.”

2) As for Rhonda, the timing here sure is weird, happening in the middle of a national team camp that she was running. At a normal organization, you would think, “Wow, she must have done something horrible, just now, that required immediate action to disrupt the only actual national team camp of the year so far and render it a completely unproductive mess.”

But it’s USAG, so our baseline assumption will be that it just reflects a compete lack of planning and awareness, and a seat-of-the-pants reactionary decision-making. Translation: it’s entirely a PR move with Kerry Perry testifying before Congress next week and needing to seem like she’s doing something.

Word that Rhonda was among five people fired, including the SafeSport director Toby Stark, lends credence to the idea that Perry just wants to be able to show up to Congress and say, “Look I’ve cleaned house!” It feels very last-ditch and unsurprising. And it will inevitably backfire on her because soon there will be no one else to deflect public anger. When things remain awful and unfixed, it’s all on her.

3) As for the merits of the firing itself, I’ll repeat a little bit of what I said last time we did this. Until we know exactly what was done by which people after learning about That Guy, it’s impossible for us to make a categorical proclamation about who did the right thing, who did not, what degree of wrong-things were done, or what people’s true intentions were. We don’t have all the information.

That’s particularly true in Rhonda’s case. Because no one seems to know what to do with her. At various points, Rhonda has seemed like a solid performer in this—if she hadn’t started at USAG in the spring of 2015, and been there at camp for Sarah Jantzi to report to, and taken it to Steve Penny, would That Guy have continued working with USAG for even longer?—or part of the problem, someone who didn’t report to law enforcement and sat idly by while nothing was being done to protect athletes from him in the 2015-2016 period, despite knowing what she knew. The circumstances defy a simple categorization. Because it’s real life.

And how much should pragmatism weigh? I believe a lot of the current-athlete unrest comes from seeing Rhonda as the one person who’s keeping their opportunities on track through this whole mess, doing the most work to bail the water out of the sinking raft and balance the “change everything and fire yourself” crowd with the “business as usual” crowd that’s still very present in USAG. Should current actions matter? Or do past failures make that irrelevant? I don’t have a good answer to that.

It’s perfectly valid here to say that the non-reporting and the sitting-idly-by are the parts we know for sure, that they’re determinative, and that Rhonda and anyone at USAG who knew about That Guy in the interim period between May-June 2015 and the IndyStar in March 2016 and did not independently go to law enforcement (as they should have) has to be removed because they are indirectly responsible for more abuse. That all makes total sense.

Now, the fact that they didn’t know to go directly to law enforcement was a failure of insufficient training—and the fact that sending it up the ladder ended up being totally worthless is a failure of Steve Effing Penny—both of which turn right back on the organization itself, but it’s still a serious failure that people can be held accountable for.

Yet, if that’s the standard, then it needs to be the standard. It has to be applied categorically. Right now. To everyone. The haphazard way this has been done, one at a time, with little apparent rhyme or reason, suddenly now on the eve of Perry’s testimony, tells me that there has been no actual standard in place. No plan or comprehensive approach. They can talk all they want about moving forward, but what direction and when?

Because what happens now? Who’s in charge in the interim? Steve Rybacki? That absolutely wouldn’t qualify as “moving forward.” If you’re finding Rhonda culpable, then don’t you have to find someone like Steve Rybacki culpable as well? He’s sure been there a hell of a lot longer and seen a hell of a lot more.

So then would we just wait until that gets pointed out again and again, and then someone tells Kerry Perry who Vanessa Atler is, and then Rybacki gets asked to resign too, and we start this all again? Oh goody.

Want to fire everyone? Fine. You are justified in doing that. Want to fire no one else? OK. That makes sense too. But do it. Now. Give your reasons, and apply them to everyone.

Also, if you’re firing all these people, you probably need to fire yourself too. You’re the worst one.

4) One can also make the argument (based on what we know right now) that Rhonda and others at USAG weren’t the big-bads in all of this and would have been very capable of learning from the mistakes made and moving forward as more vigilant and informed leaders from here on.

That approach has a reasonable basis and appeared from the outside to be what USAG was doing, because Rhonda still had a job until now. If you’re actually firing Rhonda for not reporting to law enforcement, why didn’t that happen back when we learned that information? Is there someone else we don’t know? Or are you just being a total USAG?

All of these questions reflect how little trust there is in USAG to forge a clear, reasonable path forward and do it with intention and logic. One of the most important tasks for Perry as the new CEO was restoring trust in the organization. Wherever you stand on Rhonda, clearly all of this speculation and second-guessing reveals that no one actually trusts USAG to do the right, responsible thing or have real reasons for doing anything.

5) OK. So that’s what I have. At least until five minutes from now when something else happens.

6) Maybe not related to anything: Part of the overall “cultural problem” we talk about that led to the current situation in gymnastics is the knee-jerk assumption that younger women are flippant and shallow, their concerns obviously frivolous and views uninformed. See: how all of us assumed that complaints about lack of internet/phone service at the ranch were solely related to “WE WANT TO TEXT BOYS INSTAGRAM LOL” rather than “I’m being sexually and verbally abused and need a trusted outlet.” Or how, you know, literally everyone who reported That Guy to an adult wasn’t believed because “you don’t know anything and you must have misread it, you dumb girl who’s obviously just making trouble.”

That attitude is wildly ingrained in gymnastics. The old-school coaching approach says that teenage women are hysterical, easily distracted, out for attention, and fundamentally not serious enough for the Olympics, that they must be first and foremost controlled, that their personalities need to be completely changed and re-sculpted in order to have the “focus” (elite-synonym for silence) necessary to become “coachable” (elite-synonym for docile and unthinking, even in the face of mistreatment). This thought process says members of the national team are surely not serious enough—too insignificant, too young, too flighty—to be informed of decisions or the reasons they’re made, or to be trusted to have opinions about it that are allowed to see the light of day. They just don’t understand. The lack of communication to the athletes in this case, and reactions to their statements—whether you agree with them or not—tells me this garbage manner of thinking is alive and well, and the athletes are still being dismissed.

B) Are there other things also?

Sort of. They’re kind of overshadowed now.

There was supposed to be a national team camp happening at Flip Fest right now, one that featured Simone’s return to make everyone all EEEEE SIMONE, but then Rhonda was fired yesterday and the following training sessions were canceled, so bloop I guess that’s nothing?

C) Better news

The survivors will be receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPYs.

Good call. Now, just find a way to make sure they have names that are more prominent than That Guy’s. Because in this announcement, you used his name twice and their names zero times. You identified him by name, but Tiffany Thomas Lopez is just an unidentified face in this picture. It’s not a good look.

But overall, well played.

D) Also better news

For your blood pressure.

Yes, that’s Trinity Thomas doing a 2.5 to double layout.

Later next week, we’ll also get into the run of spring national championships, including Canadian and Australian championships, as well as the Osijek World Cup, so there will be some actual competition gymnastics to distract us.

E) NCAA coaching

To wrap up some older coaching news, Umme Salim-Beasley has taken the open head coaching job at Rutgers. It’s not a surprise: Salim-Beasley is one of the biggest rising stars in the coaching world, having led Temple to record score after record score and dramatically improving the team’s quality in her time as head coach there. Salim-Beasley was also an assistant at Rutgers before moving to Temple, so it felt sort of inevitable.

We also learned the reason for Charlie Tamayo’s mid-season firing at Georgia: unauthorized use of a credit card. OOPSIES.

F) GymCastic

It’s commissioned episode season, and we’re back with THE GYMCASTIC OLYMPICS, wherein we select our all-time Olympic teams, say who would win (it’s me), and plan our dream Olympics.


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