After less than a week on the job, former Coachella Valley Rep. Mary Bono resigned Tuesday as interim CEO of the troubled USA Gymnastics amid what she called “personal attacks” against her.
Bono’s appointment to the interim post last Friday was met with criticism from some gymnastics luminaries, including Olympic gold-medalists Aly Raisman and Simone Biles.
Biles lashed out at Bono in response to a Twitter post by the former congresswoman that criticized ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — famed for his kneeling protests during the national anthem before football games — and his appearance in a recent Nike ad campaign, which featured the tagline “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Bono’s post, which has since been removed from her Twitter page, showed her using a black marker to remove the Nike logo from her shoes at a charity golf tournament. The tweet read, “Playing in a charity golf tournament raising money for our nation’s Special Forces operators and their families. Unfortunately had these (Nike) shoes in my bag. Luckily I had a marker in my bag too…”
Biles responded on Twitter, writing, “Don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Bono said she was tendering her resignation “with profound regret, coupled with a deep love for the sport of gymnastics,” but that “personal attacks” she’s recently endured “would have made my leading USAG a liability for the organization.”
“With respect to Mr. Kaepernick, he nationally exercised his First Amendment right to kneel,” she said. “I exercised mine: to mark over on my own golf shoes, the logo of the company for sponsoring him for `believing in something even if it means sacrificing everything’ — while at a tournament for families who have lost a member of the armed services (including my 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. That one tweet has now been made the litmus test of my reputation over almost two decades of public service,” Bono said.
Bono was appointed as USA Gymnastics tries to emerge from the scandal surrounding its employment of team doctor Larry Nassar, who sexually abused hundreds of athletes during his time in the organization. He pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges and was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.
The scandal also led to the resignation of the entire USA Gymnastics board of directors earlier this year.
Some of Nassar’s victims took to social media to protest Bono’s appointment, not only for the Nike tweet, but also claiming they reported Nassar’s abuses to law firm Faegre Baker Daniels — where Bono has worked since 2013 — but the firm did nothing for more than a year while Nassar continued to prey on young women and girls.
Raisman tweeted Monday, “My teammates & I reported Nassar’s abuse to USAG in 2015. 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 to cover up our abuse?”
Gymnast Kaylee Lorincz tweeted directly to Bono on Sunday, “You owe me an explanation of why you and your firm allowed Larry to abuse me in 2016 after you were well aware that he was abusing little girls.”
Bono’s statement announcing her resignation did not reference Nassar, but did reference apparent abuse she witnessed when she was a young gymnast.
“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 — perhaps the norm then, but very troubling to me to this day,” Bono wrote. “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.”
U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland, responding to Bono’s resignation, said, “While the situation is unfortunate, we know that USA Gymnastics remains dedicated to the process of finding a new and permanent CEO.”
“The USOC 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,” Hirshland said. “Both the USOC staff and myself will continue to work closely with USAG in both the short and long term as they search for a new leader. The well-being of Team USA athletes is our top priority as we manage this process.”