Warning, folks, this one’s long.
It’s been a busy, busy week for USA Gymnastics, the fallout from which is ongoing and seemingly continual.
So, let’s sum up what we know:
A. Rhonda Faehn, National Team Coordinator, was forced to resign/fired/let go, for reasons unknown.
B. Following Faehn’s removal – which may or may not have been handled by USAG CEO Kerry Perry personally in a trip to the camp – the final two days of camp were cancelled.
C. On Friday, four (maybe five?) other members of USAG staff were fired/let go, including Scott Bregman, the man who helped bring USA Gymnastics to YouTube and make it possible for fans to enjoy all of the gymnastics NBC refused to show (which, you know, is a LOT, especially since they apparently prefer to show replay after replay after replay of spectacular falls).
The upshot of all of this? Fans are bitterly disappointed, rumors are flying and the two are combining for one heck of a shitstorm on social media. Oh, I forgot to add:
D. Said gymnasts took to social media to protest the removal of Rhonda Faehn, which may or may not have been forced by the gymnasts’ individual coaches. Since then, many of the posts have come down, which may or may not have been the result of NCAA coaches getting involved. Jury’s still out on that.
What is abundantly clear at this point is that with the exception of the people directly involved (and since I’m talking about the coaches, the elites themselves and USAG staff, it may not even be them), there is a woeful lack of facts and a great deal of speculation and rumor.
This is where ANY competent national governing board should have been able to step into the gap, but that has not happened. Bear with me as I try to sort this out, because there is literally so little information, even the rumors have rumors.
You don’t fire a coach in the middle of a team training camp unless there is a clear and present danger to the athletes. While I’m not going to deny something may have come to light that forced USAG’s hands in regards to Rhonda, I find that highly doubtful – especially considering Rhonda has been in charge of the program since Valeri Liukin’s resignation in February and just returned from a month of travel and intense time with these athletes. If something had happened during that month, I’d like to THINK action could have (and should have) taken place before anyone left for camp.
Regardless of how you feel about Faehn’s continued presence as NTC (the jury is out on that, and opinions I’ve seen and heard seem pretty split), firing her in the middle of camp did absolutely nothing for the confidence and well-being of the gymnasts. Fire Rhonda before the camp, fine. Fire Rhonda after the camp, fine. Fire Rhonda during the camp, you’ve not only added to the chaos these young women have been going through since everything went to hell with Nassar, you’ve also literally torn down the structure those same young women have known their entire elite careers.
Why is this a problem, some ask? Certainly, these gymnasts accomplish more with their individual coaches than they do at camp, and yes, they can continue to train with those coaches. And yes, gymnasts succeeded before the camps started and will continue to see success without them.
But here’s the problem with blithely making that statement and expecting everyone to just move on. NONE OF THESE CURRENT ELITES HAVE EVER TRAINED WITHOUT THE CAMP PROCESS. Add in the fact that almost ALL of those elites are between the ages of 13 and 17 (exceptions: Marz Frazier and Biles) and you have a boatload of scared young women who suddenly see everything they have spent the majority of their lives working for come crashing down around them.
Add in the fact that the majority of the coaches in this case are also seeing everything they’ve come to expect come crashing down around them, and you have a dumpster fire that is starting to jump from dumpster to dumpster. You’ve got scared kids with a national governing body that is pledging publicly to empower them, but privately is doing nothing with them in mind right now. You have numerous adults who have time and a great deal of money invested in those elites who suddenly have no idea what’s coming next. And you have a national governing board that seems incapable of acting with any sort of transparency or competency.
Hence the mess you have right now. What’s truly frightening is that so much of what’s being done is being done in the name of the gymnasts, to “empower” them (my apologies for quoting Kerry Perry’s favorite word). I’m sorry, but I’m not seeing anything positive happening for the gymnasts right now. You don’t empower young women by pulling down the structure they have come to rely on around them.
Someone needs to take control. Someone needs to sit down with these young women (again, most of which are going through their first Olympic cycle) and reassure them. This is when a true leader plans ahead. Go ahead, clean house at USAG if that’s what you want done. God knows, it might be the only way to bring true change. But do so in a way that doesn’t pull the rug out from under the young women you need for this program to work.
There are far too many variables right now to have any confidence that USAG can even field a structure for these athletes right now, and it never should have gotten to this point. For an organization that has claimed to be putting the best interests of gymnasts at heart, they are the ones being ignored.