The Spectacularly Fast Flameout of USA Gymnastics' New CEO
In a mere four days' time, USA Gymnastics — the governing body for the sport, from preschool classes through the Olympic team — went from naming former U.S. Congresswoman Mary Bono to serve as the organization’s new interim CEO to accepting Bono’s resignation from the position. Bono was named to the role which has been empty since prior CEO, Kerry Perry, who quit amid accusations of being slow to act on the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal. But Bono herself wasn’t a scot-free choice, as her four-day tenure shows.
The backlash against Bono was largely tied to a since-deleted tweet in which she criticized Nike’s campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, and showed herself defacing the Swoosh on some Nike golf shoes. Even Bono herself pointed to her tweet as the driving force behind her resignation, calling it out in her statement to say that she was just exercising her First Amendment rights. The gymnastics world didn't exactly see it that way.
“That one tweet has now been made the litmus test of my reputation over nearly two decades of public service,” Bono's statement concludes.
But the Nike kerfuffle is just one small aspect of why there was a backlash when Bono assumed the position at USA Gymnastics. For some gymnasts, she represented the organization’s failure to be accountable for the decades of sexual abuse for which Larry Nassar is now serving 40 to 175 years in prison; many believe the organization was involved in covering up this abuse instead of addressing the problem — and Mary Bono represented this problem personified.
Here's the connection: She’s a former principal at the law firm employed by USA Gymnastics that helped to provide “false excuses” to account for Nassar’s absences from major gymnastics events, rather than disclose that he was being investigated for child sexual abuse.
Kaylee Lorincz says she was just 13 years old the first time she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar. Now 19 and a sophomore studying criminal justice at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, she is dealing with the trauma of her abuse all over again as a result of the news of Bono’s appointment and her swift resignation.
“I can only hope that USA Gymnastics will finally do the right thing and finally find someone who is the perfect person for this job,” Kaylee says. “There is nothing more I want to see than for USA Gymnastics to turn around and be successful and come out positive at the end of this. But from what we’ve seen so far, I don’t really see that happening."
Kaylee says she is disappointed, albeit not surprised, that Mary Bono pegged her resignation to the anti-Kaepernick tweet. "I didn’t expect anything more. I didn’t expect that she would take recognition of the fact that she worked for the law firm that knew about Larry in 2015. I don’t expect more. We keep being failed.”
When Kaylee and her mother, Lisa Lorincz, first learned of Bono’s ties to the firm that helped represent USA Gymnastics in covering for Nassar, they say it made her appointment feel like a slap in the face to the “Sister Survivors” of his abuse, like Kaylee.
“What we said when we first found out, you can’t put in print,” Lisa told InStyle over the phone. “It was something along the lines of, ‘Are you F-ing kidding me?’ How can you continually get it so wrong? How incompetent and ignorant can you be? Their deliberate attempts to put people in place who will not dig, and not open their minds to what really happened — [to ask] what did they know and when did they know, and who knew it — shows that they’re not asking who will do what’s best for young athletes, but who will keep things status quo.”
Knowing that USA Gymnastics chose to move someone with seeming ties to the Nassar cover-up into this position — and then remove her for reasons seemingly having nothing to do with those connections — hurts athletes like Kaylee. Especially since, for the Lorincz family, Bono’s involvement with the law firm seems to go hand-in-hand with their own personal timeline regarding Nassar’s abuse: “2016 was the last time I saw Larry,” Kaylee says. “[Bono's] firm knew in 2015. And then you see she has this position? It’s heartbreaking. If they had done their job, I would not have been abused one more time, two more times. It’s just like, how do you not do the right thing? First they didn’t do the right thing in 2015, and then in 2018 USA Gymnastics hires someone who [allegedly] knew about this years ago and didn’t do anything about it. It’s heartbreaking. It’s hurtful. It’s upsetting.”
Kaylee isn’t the only Nassar survivor who has called out Bono’s connection to Faegre Baker Daniels. When the Bono announcement was first made, Olympian Aly Raisman tweeted:
Following Bono’s resignation on Tuesday, Raisman once again weighed in:
The scope of the ramifications of Nassar’s abuse is much larger than just the situation involving Mary Bono herself, Lisa says. But this appointment did feel indicative of what the Lorincz family perceive to be a continued cycle of USA Gymnastics refusing to assume full accountability for what has happened, and leaving the Nassar survivors traumatized anew with each painful news moment.
“When I think Kaylee is getting better, then the depression starts again,” mom Lisa says. “She doesn’t want to do anything. She wants to come home from school. And every time something like this happens, we start all over. We’ve been going through this for years. Enough is enough.”
She goes on to say, “I want Kaylee to live a normal life, to have meaningful relationships, to be able to talk, to be able to see that there are people who are good and who want to do the right thing, but that’s what’s missing. She hasn’t seen that yet. Every step we take to fight for what’s right, evil wins. And that’s very defeating, and I see that in her.”
But Kaylee insists that despite the struggle, she’s still fighting — against the continued effects of the trauma of the abuse she suffered, and against a larger culture that enables abuse by silencing survivors. And to her, that fight includes why she was so vocal against Bono’s appointment — and why she remains skeptical about the future of the sport to which she has devoted so much of her life — but also for making a new kind of future for herself.
“I think about [Nassar and being sexually abused] every day. I work through depression a lot. I’m not just so strong and confident all the time. I put on that persona through interviews and all this stuff, and I am strong and passionate, but when the cameras aren’t on there is a part of me that is still depressed and upset and feels like I’m just trying to get through the day. I’m a full-time college student now and just trying to get through classes and study for my exams coming up, and I can’t study because my mind is focused on the news and Mary Bono and USA Gymnastics. I’m constantly thinking about Larry Nassar,” she says.
And while Bono may be out from USA Gymnastics, Kaylee hopes the organization will continue taking her and other gymnasts' concerns seriously, and work to find a CEO with a real desire to investigate what happened, who will facilitate real change. She points to the documented attempts by former USA Gymnastics President and CEO Steve Penny to cover up the reports being made by Nassar’s victims being followed by the appointment of a subsequent president who resigned after also facing criticism for failing to launch a full internal investigation as proof of what happens when systems are established to continue to protect those in power, and dismiss and discredit their survivors.
She says of her fellow survivors, “We’re a small army in a larger army [of all survivors] and we’re ready to take down anyone who thinks they can get away with sexual assault and cover-ups and everything else that comes with it.” And that’s why, Kaylee says, she saw so much of herself in Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who stood up to render testimony against Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“I feel for Dr. Ford. I would love to be able to say to you right now, on the record, that I believe her and I stand with her.” Echoes Lisa, “A stabbing victim — they live through that, and you can see the wound so you believe them. But this feels like a dirty topic to people, so they don’t. When we saw the Nassar survivors take the stand, we saw emotion and empathy, and they were believed. But with the Kavanaugh hearing, we saw the opposite. It showed the temporariness of, ‘We believe you.’ Nothing will change until survivors are believed before they are not believed.”
Which is why Kaylee Lorincz insists that she won't sit quietly on the sidelines until she sees real and systemic change from the gymnastics organization — and sees the same respect afforded to all survivors of sexual violence in the United States. “People in power think they can just cover up other people’s stories — but they can’t,” she says.
“This army and these women are so strong and we don’t back down and soon enough the stories will all come out, and the truth will be known.” Where USA Gymnastics goes from here is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure: Its fans, followers, and members are watching. “And we survivors?" Kaylee says, "We don’t stop until the truth is out and until justice is served.”