The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – August 31, 2018

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Because it just doesn’t stop. The insanity grows ever richer. It would be funny…if it weren’t clearly a meth addiction.

So, here are the developments of the last two days from the saga that is Mary Lee Tracy.

1) Mary Lee Tracy was appointed as the new head of the elite developmental program.

I had issues with choosing MLT for this position, including but not limited to her status as an insider in a program that desperately needs outsider perspectives, her public support of That Guy coming MONTHS after everyone already knew exactly how awful he was, and horror stories related by former athletes like Dominique Moceanu and Alyssa Beckerman.

I would have preferred the selection a coach who seemed to understand how hurtful it is to respond to news of abuse with “MY athletes had a great time, so…”

Because imagine having that conversation in person.

Athlete: I was abused by Larry Nassar.
You: Well, everyone I know had a positive experience with him.

That’s not just innocently “telling your own experience.”  That’s a denial of that athlete’s experience. It says you’re not interested. It says you’re not listening. It says that you consider your own experience more significant and superior to theirs.  Plus, you don’t even know whether your athletes actually did have a positive experience—only they themselves can speak to that.

For someone in charge of the littles and of mentoring other new elite coaches, that was a problem, one that at the very least needed to be addressed and apologized for (compellingly) with a commitment to do better. Otherwise, you worry that future reports of abuse will get the “No, I know him, he’s great, that couldn’t have happened…” treatment.

I was nonetheless still surprised by the intensity of anger shown regarding Mary Lee’s hiring from people who aren’t perpetually cranky like me. I mean, I wrote a diatribe about it, but of course I did. Where is this level of outrage when I write 16 caps-lock paragraphs about how stupid the Faroe Islands team selection for the Northern European Championships was? That’s the real question.

But, it was such a tone-deaf move from USAG, one that was just so representative of the “can’t we just move on?” culture that still persists within gymnastics—even though the answer is a resounding no—that I think people just couldn’t take it anymore. And I do think USAG had no idea that hiring MLT would provoke the level of anger it did, which…are you even alive in the world? LISTEN.

2) So then what happened?

“I am deeply sorry for the comments I made about Larry Nassar in an interview in December 2016. I was wrong. I was not as educated as I needed to be before speaking, both about the crimes of Mr. Nassar and how my words might affect others, and I understand now just how hurtful that was to the survivors who had already been through so much…”

…is not what Mary Lee Tracy said. She could have, and this probably would have gone away, but that’s not what happened. (Being honest, I would have still criticized this as empty words, and being too little too late, but most real people would have appreciated some kind of actual apology.)

Instead, things progressed, anger grew, local news stories were made, and defensiveness and doubling down on past mistakes were the names of the game. Tom Forster came to MLT’s defense with a Facebook post that probably should have been left unwritten.

I know I should be talking about how this post reinforces a lot of that old “coaches are more important than the athletes—were they damaged, WHO CARES” thinking, but let’s be honest, I can’t get past “entwined in a positive, magical way.” I’ve been laughing about it nonstop for 48 hours.

Remember during Morgan-Simone when everyone was like, “These gymnasts need to learn responsible use of social media!!!!” I feel like we should start with the coaches. They’re the WORST about it. You know other people can see this stuff, right? STOP DIGGING, YOU’VE STRUCK DIARRHEA.

3) Mary Lee Tracy tells everyone that she’s being cyber-bullied and might resign because of it.

Because she’s the real victim here. Now, I totally believe that MLT was receiving unacceptable emails that went beyond the kind of legitimate and necessary criticism we’re engaging in here. (Reminder: criticism is not cyber-bullying.) I mean, think about all the death threats gymnasts get for things like having hair or falling on beam or whatever—and they didn’t even do anything wrong. This definitely fits with my “people are consistently horrible” worldview.

But MLT’s other comments in this piece showed a continued defense of the fact that she was unwilling to countenance everything we already knew about That Guy, even in December 2016, simply because she was friends with him. That’s not OK.

4) Mary Lee Tracy resigns!

But it wasn’t because of the cyber-bullying, like it was supposed to be. MLT resigned because Kerry Perry got involved.

(You KNOW that KP only learned who Mary Lee was yesterday and had no idea who she was when she was hired—you KNOW it).

You guys.

YOU GUYS.

I CANNOT.

So first of all, it’s Aly. Not Ali.

Was that a try?

I RESPECT YOU SO MUCH I DON’T KNOW YOUR NAME.

Also, MLT later went back and fixed the first Ali, but not the second Ali. Even better.

Next, we need to break it down. So, apparently, Mary Lee privately tried to contact Ali without permission from the organization that now employs her, an organization that is also in ongoing litigation with Alii. Conflicts! Clearly, USAG’s lawyers weren’t thrilled about that.

Part of the complication here is that Kerry Perry and Tom Forster just spoke with Aliii at nationals, so they’re OK with it in certain circumstances. The not getting permission thing must be the kicker. WE COULDN’T CONTROL WHAT YOU SAID. Or, things had reached an untenable position with regard to public anger that they needed MLT to go and were just looking for a reason. USAG’s primary mission has always been, and continues to be, the avoidance of bad press and avoidance of responsibility.

Dear USAG: If there’s one thing we know about the US gymnastics community based on the last couple years, it’s that when it comes to all things that aren’t double pikes, no basic knowledge should be assumed and constant instruction is required. You should be aware of that by now.

Does Nassar have to be licensed to practice medicine in Texas? Should I report sexual abuse of a child to police? Does it still count as sexual abuse even if it didn’t happen to someone I know? Should I not include my private phone number and email address on documents that will be entered into the public congressional record? WHO COULD POSSIBLY KNOW THE ANSWER TO THESE RIDDLES?

The sad part is that morally, Mary Lee contacting Aleeeiieee was the right thing to do. It showed a willingness to try to understand where other people are coming from and understand why her previous comments were upsetting. It was a positive move toward reconciliation and makes me think better of MLT, even if it was not the most…well thought out decision.

By taking the position in the first place, MLT made the choice to ally (or should I say alli) herself with USAG, with its actions, with its legal strategy, and with the insane whims of Kerry Perry. She chose this. She chose team USAG. Most people aren’t taking these positions right now for exactly that reason. They don’t want to have to stand by USAG even when it sucks. So yeah, you should have been able to contact Allllleeeeeeee to talk and learn and have a moment and whatnot, but you chose the path of not being able to do that.

It’s almost like there’s a disconnect between working for USAG and behaving like an actual human person. You can’t do both. It’s been said before, but this really reinforces it, that nothing is going to get better until the legal process is completed. It just can’t.

It’s also sort of hilarious to me that THIS is what she had to resign for. Not for any of the actual bad things. This. It’s just so USAG.

5) So where are we on this?

Mary Lee resigning the position was probably the right thing to do, because of…see point #1…even if the means with which it came about were ridiculous. She’s too divisive of a figure, if nothing else, and cannot represent a Changed USAG. Public positions like these need to be about more than just the ability to teach skills.

So in the end…

6) BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE.

PSYCH! Mary Lee isn’t resigning anymore.

Oh. Oh dear. This isn’t going to end well.

So now we have to grapple with the dueling ideas that 1) MLT should have resigned and should probably have stayed resigned, 2) USAG has a lot to answer for in hiring her in the first place and the fishy circumstances regarding asking her to resign, and 3) Kerry Perry is the worst.

#TeamNobody

7) USAG’s statement

So, uh, OK. Now we know where USAG draws the line. Talking to Aly. Ron Galimore is still fine.

8) Because there’s more, obviously

As far as they can tell, Aly has not received a message from Mary Lee.

THIS. IS. SO. WEIRD.

Mary Lee says she tried to contact Aly.
USAG says she did contact Aly.
And Aly’s like, “Literally what? I was napping.”

So what, did Mary Lee pick up the phone and then Kerry Perry appeared in a cloud of smoke to slap it out of her hand? Did MLT ask to try to contact Aly and they were like, “HAHA FIRED”? Is the whole “contacting Aly” situation just a total lie from the start?

If contacting Aly is a total lie, I am entirely unsurprised by that from USAG (because everything they do is a blatant and disastrous lie), but what would be MLT’s motivation to say she tried to contact Aly if she didn’t? That’s the piece I still want explained here. (And also all the pieces.)

Did MLT try to contact Aly, Aly never got it or MLT never ended up doing it, but USAG got wind of the intention somehow and were like, “YESSSSSS. EXCUSE FOR FIRING”? That’s the only way I can make sense of all of this given what we know right now.

9) The party don’t start until USOC walks in

The entire game plan of the USOC is to do nothing forever, let everything be trash, and then show up way too late and pretend to be the adult in the room. This is continuing. The new CEO Sarah Hirshland just rolled up to make the following statement about USAG:

“We’ve been following their activity and as we close the day I’m afraid I can offer nothing but disappointment.”

SAME. SOULMATES.

You had me at “nothing but disappointment.”

Hirshland went on to mention “making adjustments in leadership” at USAG.

Translation: Kerry, ya burnt. The USOC is in charge, and the USOC gets what it wants.

Also, can we talk about how KP has been CEO for only NINE MONTHS? It feels like one thousand lifetimes.

10) Vote of no confidence

Now, the US Elite Coaches Association for Women’s Gymnastics (which is a thing, apparently) has issued a vote of no confidence in Kerry Perry.

Oh hey, I also have no confidence in Kerry Perry! Bonding moment!

So…question. Do we focus on all of our problems with this letter (Where have you been until now? Who is in this association? Why was this thing written by a 2nd grader? Why does your motto start with “win medals”? Where was this letter when Steve Effing Penny was in charge?)…or do we just accept that they’re on the BOO KP side and that’s a good thing in the end?

But also, if the saga with MLT has taught us anything, it’s that maybe “listening to the elite coaches more” is not an ideal solution. Let’s listen to some of the elite coaches more. And some of them super less.

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