After four days at the helm, former California congresswoman Mary Bono, who was picked to lead USA Gymnastics, resigned Tuesday. She was appointed as interim president and chief executive officer of the troubled organization on Friday.
“My withdrawal comes in the wake of personal attacks that, left undefended, would have made my leading USAG a liability for the organization,” Bono said in her resignation letter.
In announcing Bono’s appointment, USA Gymnastics touted her past as a “former gymnast who trained in a variety of clubs with several different coaches over 10 years” and her work as an attorney with Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting in Washington, D.C.
Her decision comes after survivors of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, including several of the sport’s biggest stars, ratcheted up their criticism of the beleaguered organization and their choice of Bono over her former law firm’s ties to the doctor who is now serving an effective life sentence for federal child pornography and sexual abuse convictions.
The two page letter also noted:
“My regret is that I would have brought to the organization, the angst and anger of my own story: a young aspiring gymnast who witnessed first-hand the assaulting behavior of a coach; watched peers who acquiesced in it move ahead while those who didn’t were left behind, and myself stayed silent. … I would have brought a fire in the belly to ensure that no one as taken with gymnastics as I was at that age, should have to choose between abuse and ambition, or between properly speaking out and promoting personal success.”
Olympic gold medalist and Nassar victim, Aly Raisman, leveled a series of increasingly critical tweets in the past few days against USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Raisman denounced USA Gymnastics, claiming Bono’s law firm, Faegre Baker Daniels, had been aware of the allegations against the abusive team doctor since 2015.
“My teammates & I reported Nassar’s abuse to USAG in 2015,” Raisman wrote in a tweet on Monday. “We now know USOC & lawyers at Faegre Baker Daniels (Mary Bono’s firm) were also told then, yet Nassar continued to abuse children for 13 months!? Why hire someone associated with the firm that helped cover up our abuse?”
An investigation by the Indianapolis Star “revealed that an Indianapolis attorney with the firm helped Nassar negotiate cover stories to explain why Nassar was not attending two major events in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics.”
On Monday, USA Gymnastics’ board of directors told the newspaper that Bono “wasn’t involved in the firm’s work with USAG as ‘counsel of record.’ ”
On Tuesday, Bono stood by her work with the firm, saying she “proudly stands” behind her body of work at Faegre Baker Daniels.
A day after Bono’s appointment, Olympic champion Simone Biles also lambasted her for a September tweet in which she criticized Nike for its support of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his kneeling during the national anthem.
Bono had tweeted a picture of her golf shoes in which she had blacked out the Nike logo. In response to the image, Biles wrote, “don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.”
Bono has since deleted the tweet and issued an apology, writing, “I regret the post and respect everyone’s views & fundamental right to express them.”
“This doesn’t reflect how I will approach my position @USAGym I will do everything I can to help build, w/ the community, an open, safe & positive environment,” she added.
But on Tuesday, Bono explained the golf shoe photo was an expression of her First Amendment right to free speech and that what she really objected to was not Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem but rather Nike’s logo in the Kaepernick campaign — “Believing in something even if it means sacrificing everything.”
She said she took issue with the tag line on behalf of families who have lost a member of the armed services, including her own brother-in-law — a Navy SEAL “who literally ‘sacrificed everything.’ ”
“It was an emotional reaction to the sponsor’s use of that phrase that caused me to tweet, and I regret that at the time I didn’t better clarify my feelings,” she said.
This latest shakeup comes after the previous president, Kerry Perry, was forced out in September after a tumultuous year leading one of the country’s most successful Olympic sports.
In a statement Tuesday, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland called Bono’s resignation “unfortunate” but added the organization “is committed to working hard with the USAG board to find the right leader who can build gymnastics up to the world-class organization we know that it can and should be.”