The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – November 6, 2018

A. USAG, please pack your knives and go

Can’t a fandom just have one measly second after worlds to decompress?

Apparently not. On Monday, the USOC’s new CEO Sarah Hirshland sent an open letter to the gymnastics community in which she announced that she has been in this position for 11 seconds and is already so sick of USAG’s big bag of bullshit that she might have to spontaneously turn inside out and live the rest of her life as an exposed spleen, so she can only imagine what the rest of us have been dealing with.

And by that, I mean she’s beginning the extremely rare process of removing USA Gymnastics as the national governing body for gymnastics in the US.

Wow.

To clarify, this announcement is just the opening step and doesn’t mean that USA Gymnastics has been decertified just yet. The USOC will now assemble a three-person panel to conduct a hearing, after which the panel will report to the USOC board, and the board will vote on the ultimate course of action.

Still, this entire process is governed by the USOC, so the CEO would not have initiated it blindly and would not have initiated it without a specific outcome in mind. The USOC intends to decertify USA Gymnastics.

This is a massive move, one I honestly did not think would come because it’s just so drastic and will have so many repercussions for the sport especially on a local, non-elite level—repercussions that we haven’t even begun to work through yet.

But it’s nonetheless absolutely necessary.

At its heart, the fundamental failure of USAG post-Nassar was an unwillingness or inability—from the corporate leadership all the way down through the veteran coaches—to look at itself and say, “We did a bad job. The thing we have spent our entire careers dedicated to? It was bad. We did it the wrong way. It was exploitative and demeaning and vicious, and our legacy will be as the bad guys. This is all of our faults, all of our responsibility, and we need to change.”

Or, in the words of Kristen DeCosta, “Gymnastics is fucked.”

Unable to countenance such a drastic ego-blow and such bare self-examination, USAG instead folded in on itself and its foundation of arrogance. The only aim was to avoid the admittance of wrongdoing, to protect the legal and financial standing of the organization and its reputation (as if that’s something anyone cares about), and as a result it turned to viewing survivors as adversaries who want to DESTROY ITS GREATNESS and viewing status in its little cabal of “trust” as the ultimate qualification, no matter how much sexual abuse you’ve helped cover up or defend.

Rather than admitting the failure of USAG and accepting the necessity of improving athlete treatment and changing a culture of unprofessional backdoor deals and cronyism, American gymnastics wanted only one thing—for the fury and public attention to die down so that everyone could go back to doing exactly what they’ve always done, with no one paying attention.

That attitude wasn’t going to change—spoiler alert: Ron Galimore still works there and unvetted trash people keep getting hired—so there was only one recourse remaining, to burn it down.

Here’s what USAG never understood: The increased attention? The explosions in leadership? The crumbling of old pillars? That was a gift. It was a golden opportunity to change the policies and conventions and people that weren’t working, that were out of date, that could get better. But USAG was never able to view it as a gift, only as an obstacle, a burden, a storm to be weathered rather than one bringing spring and rebirth metaphors or whatever literary slop you prefer.

In part, USA Gymnastics was never able to view this as a gift because it was never able to get itself together to do…anything. USAG’s most compelling and everlasting foundational identity is, and has always been, incompetence. Especially in the last couple years, with all of these piecemeal staffing changes, USAG has become an ant farm of differing agendas, keeping-your-job panic, and miscommunication, one that could barely organize who’s bringing plates for the birthday party let alone the hiring of a qualified leader or, say, a sport-wide culture shift.

When trying to make sense of the failures of USAG, I always have to remember that at its core, maybe USAG is just a bunch of not-so-smart people who failed upward and all hate each other and their lives and physically cannot do anything useful.

I was not always among those who favored the drastic step of decertification, but the multiple years of making the same damn mistakes have worn me down. In the past, I’ve argued it’s better to stay with USA Gymnastics because we already had the organization under a microscope of intense scrutiny, which allowed the public to shut down any of these stupid hiring stunts in a matter of days instead of letting any and all behavior slide as had happened in the past.

But we can’t just keep doing that forever. And USAG is so intractable that we’d have to do it for literally ever. There’s no other choice.

Still, I would caution against viewing the process of eliminating USAG as a manifestly positive solution. This route is now necessary because all other less serious avenues have been exhausted—and it does provide a new opportunity to rewrite the culture and turn gymnastics into a model for all other Olympic sports—but it’s just as possible that things could get even worse from here.

Does a new organization mean new people? New approaches? New influences? Not necessarily. Or would it just be called “Gymnastics USA” instead of “USA Gymnastics” and star Mary Lee Tracy in a series of different wigs? If done lazily, a new organization could very easily end up being just as ugly as USAG but without the organizational infrastructure, yet with a longer leash afforded by “they’re new, give them a chance”-style forgiveness.

Part of that fear comes from the involvement of the USOC. Don’t think you can waltz in and pretend to be the savior, USOC. We see you. You are no more worthy of trust than USAG and are just as culpable. That the USOC finally decided to cut and run to protect its own image from the unending stream of bad publicity that is USA Gymnastics doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that it’s invested in making things better for athletes.

And what does this mean for athletes in the short term? I have no earthly idea. I think worries about the top echelon of elite artistic competition are unfounded—the USOC will step in and send ensure athletes are sent to Stuttgart and Tokyo—but beyond that…? At the state level? In the non-artistic disciplines? (It’s telling that the USOC waited until to do this after artistic worlds but not T&T worlds.) It’s going to get worse for a while. And we have to be OK with that. We have to go into the crevasse to ever hope to get out.

B. None-Olympia

In a move with fitting simultaneity, All-Olympia announced that it is closing its Hawthorne location. You know, because of the “negativity” and the “rumors.” Not the lawsuits or anything.

Side note: If you ever hear anyone complaining about how there’s so much negativity in gymnastics right now, they’re the negativity in gymnastics right now.

All-Olympia is the gym where McKayla Maroney and Mattie Larson were “coached,” and…that’s basically all I need to tell you about why it’s closing and why literally no one is sad about it, right? Right. There are many rotten corners.

Also, if you’re a fan of dark humor, please read this abysmal garbage letter. The sheer arrogance. The “we.” I cannot.

C. Just to leave on an exciting note

The entry list for the Cottbus world cup is out and it’s LEGIT. This will be the first of the eight individual apparatus world cup qualifiers to the Olympics, and I’ve never been more excited for a world cup event. Which was the FIG’s whole plan.

To review, athletes will attempt to gain ranking points at eight events running from now until early 2020, with the best three results counting, and the winner of each event at the end of the process will qualify to the Olympics. This is the ranking point distribution for each competition:

Many nations and athletes that have not yet qualified will be covering their bases by competing in these early world cups because you just don’t know what’s going to happen later.

Qualification begins on November 22.

D. GymCastic

We have much to keep you occupied:

10 daily podcasts from worlds? YEP.

9 video watch-alongs? YEP.

It’s like worlds never has to end!

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