The Press-Enterprise [Riverside CA]
April 9, 2021
By Scott Reid
A top USA Gymnastics official has threatened to remove approximately 40 former Olympians and U.S. national team members from Hall of Fame consideration if they do not contact the organization by April 15, a move described by Larry Nassar survivors as a heavy-handed attempt to punish them for speaking out about the sport’s culture of abuse.
In an email to former USA Gymnastics women’s program athletes Thursday, obtained by the Southern California News Group, Tom Koll, chairman of the organization’s women’s program committee, detailed the process for selecting the 2021 USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame class.
In the email, a follow-up to a similar April 1 email, Koll wrote: “I would respectfully ask you to reply to this email with an answer to the questions involving your willingness to be involved in the consideration process.”
At the end of the email, Koll added: “If I do not hear back from you, I will do my best to research another way to contact you. However, because of the time crunch for the 2021 Class consideration, if I do NOT hear back from you by April 15th, I will remove your name from the 2021 and other future Class considerations.”
The Koll letter follows a series of public-relations crises under current CEO Li Li Leung by an organization still unable to shake its reputation for prioritizing medals and money over athlete safety and creating a culture of abuse that enabled the predatory behavior of Nassar, the former Olympic and women’s national team physician, and former Olympic and national coaches Don Peters, John Geddert and Marvin Sharp and others.
The letter also comes nearly 30 months into USA Gymnastics’ bankruptcy proceedings that have yet to produce a settlement with the more than 500 survivors of alleged sexual abuse by USA Gymnastics coaches, physicians and officials.
“Why is the head of the USA Gymnastics women’s program contacting my clients and telling them if they don’t respond to him immediately they will be permanently removed from consideration from the USAG hall of fame?” John Manly, an attorney for more than 100 Nassar and Peters survivors, wrote in an email Friday to Margaret Holm, an attorney for USA Gymnastics.
“None of the survivors we represent want to have any contact with USAG. USAG betrayed them and knowingly allowed them to be savaged by Larry Nassar. Now according to USAG if these survivors don’t jump and respond to some NGB bozo they get punished?? This is obviously a thinly disguised effort by USAG to permanently exclude anyone who dared speak out about their abuse from consideration for the hall of fame. The stupidity, ignorance, cruelty and tone deafness of your client never ceases to disappoint.”
USA Gymnastics did not respond to a request for comment.
Manly also said Koll’s claim that he did not have contact information for Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympic medalist, and other athletes is false. Dantzscher was the first Nassar survivor to file suit against USA Gymnastics and has been a leading critic of the organization.
“They have her current address,” Manly said.
Leung, a former NBA vice president and sports marketing executive who competed for the U.S. at the 1988 Jr. Pan American Games, has been the target of almost constant criticism since she was hired in 2019 as the organization’s fourth CEO in less than two years.
Her first major hire, Edward Nyman Jr., the organization’s first full-time sports medicine and science director, was fired in April 2019 after just one day on the job for failing to disclose athlete safety complaints against his wife and other coaches at an Ohio gymnastics club she owned and operated.
SCNG, however, reported in May 2019 that USA Gymnastics officials had been aware of allegations of misconduct against the Ohio club owned since at least the summer of 2017. Mark Busby, then USA Gymnastics’ in-house counsel, even encouraged a parent to file a formal complaint against New Heights Gymnastics and its owner, Amy Nyman, three months before the national governing body hired Edward Nyman Jr., SCNG reported.
Even before the Nyman debacle, Leung was criticized by former Olympians and national team members for comments she made during an interview with NBC’s “Today” show shortly after her hiring.
“I was seen by Larry Nassar myself, but I was not abused by him, and the reason why I wasn’t abused by him is because my coach was by my side when he saw me,” Leung said. “I was seen by him in a public setting and so I understand what the setting needs to be like in order to ensure safety for our athletes.”
Leung later apologized for the comments, acknowledging that they were “insensitive.”
Leung also drew criticism from former Olympic and national team members and their supporters when Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton said in a television interview that Leung was consulting with her. Retton was on the USA Gymnastics board of directors during the Nassar scandal and, according to published reports, was an early defender of USA Gymnastics handling of sexual abuse cases and has consistently downplayed the extent of abuse within the sport.
Retton has also defended former U.S. national team directors Bela and Martha Karolyi, her former coaches. The Karolyis are defendants in dozens of lawsuits filed by former gymnasts who allege they played a leading role in creating a culture of abuse that enabled Nassar’s predatory behavior.
“On a related note,” Manly wrote in the email to Holm. “Our firm is starting a hall of fame for the most tone deaf, cruel and consistently anti-child organization in the United States. It was a close race with the Catholic Bishops, the LDS church, Scouts and Epstein’s enablers and all but I’m pleased to announce that USA Gymnastics won. I’m sure you will let them know. I’m still trying to come up with an appropriate award but I can’t seem to come up with anything that demonstrates the overt vileness of your client.”