Coming back to the NCAA … and UGA

With USAG reaching some semblance of normalcy (well, call it a dumpster fire down to a smolder at the moment), real life took precedence for the last week. Mia culpa, mia maxima culpa. It’ll be weekly updates from here on out.

In the meantime, the NCAA is 99 percent quiet and 1 percent “summer upgrades, y’all.” Starting, of course, with the team that went from dead in the water to No. 7 in country by the end of the year. Yep, we’re talking about Georgia. Yes, the same team that was down to five competitive vaulters for most of the season and only had those because hereto-unseen-senior Jasmine Arnold kicked arse and took no prisoners for most the season (that 9.55 floor routine that should’ve been a 9.3, we’re looking at you…).

Few people doubted UGA would turn it around with Suzanne Yoculan coming back, Courtney Kupets Carter taking the reins and an incoming freshman class that offered plenty of options in terms of depth. But then the majority of that freshman class got injured one way or another, senior Natalie Vaculik hurt an ankle bad enough to go bars-only the back half of the season and all of a sudden, UGA was battling just to be seeded for regionals.

So, Sabrina Vega hits a beam routine and UGA goes to NCAAs. Nice season, guys. Only…Bama implodes in prelims, UGA survives a shaky start on floor and all of a sudden the team finishes No. 7 overall. NICE SEASON, guys!!!

Which makes upgrades this summer look all the nicer. Emily Schild and Marissa Oakley – two of the frosh who were on the injured list – are upgrading bars and beam.

First, Schild on bars. A healthy Schild in the UGA lineup could (and should) be a game-changer for the Gymdawgs. Given that Schild was out more than half of the season, came back on bars only, then added beam and finally vault in a pinch at NCAAs, an all-around slot for the former USA national teamer would be great.

And then you have Marissa Oakley. Oakley spent her whole freshman year on vault, bars and beam, and one can hope floor will be an addition as a sophomore. So, aside from the fact she was steady as a rock when UGA needed her, she’s already looking to do more. In a climate where gainer fulls off the side get more and more yawns, let’s applaud the cartwheel gainer double full we’ve seen pop up (sorry, can’t find the video) and then take a gander at this second upgrade.

I’m not 100 percent convinced UGA is is capable of making the first cut of “Four on the Floor” next season (and more to the point, making NCAAs is looking to be about as complicated as the new Olympic qualifying for individuals). However, if this team can stay healthy and the huge incoming freshman class does what it’s supposed to, I like what I’m seeing. As in, I’m going out on a limb and calling the Gymdawgs a potential dark horse for a title next year.

Crazy? Perhaps. But nothing shocks me with UGA anymore.

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Rest in Peace, Sylvia

Former Centenary gymnast Sylvia Keiter died Saturday. She had stopped to help others involved in an accident, and was hit by a drunk driver.

By all accounts, Keiter was a spirited teammate and wonderful person. Thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Centenary family.

I don’t like victim blaming, you don’t like victim blaming…no one likes victim blaming

One of the many reactions to Rhonda Faehn’s firing came from John Manly, the lawyer representing the sister survivors of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case – that case, of course, being the driving force behind all the “change” at USA Gymnastics.

(If you don’t know who Larry Nassar is after the past year and a half, and you’re reading this, use your Google-fu.)

So, Manly – who up until Friday seemed like a reasonably decent human being – made the following statement regarding Faehn:

“Our clients are pleased that Ms. Faehn is no longer part of USAG. However, this should have been done long ago. USAG President Kerry Perry knew from her first day that Ms. Faehn failed to report Nassar and did not share with National Team athletes or parents that Nassar was terminated by USAG for molesting three athletes. It was not because he wanted to ‘retire,’ which was a cover story USAG leadership allowed him to use to conceal the terrible truth from athletes and their families.”

All well and good so far. It gets to the heart of the problem – why Rhonda was still there after a year and a quarter.

Next part:

“Many of our clients are distressed about the manner in which this termination was executed by USAG. Ms. Faehn’s resignation should have been sought long ago by Perry. At a minimum, it could have been done before or after this camp. Summarily relieving her of her duties, with no explanation of why to the athletes, in the middle of a national team camp preparing for a competition is inappropriate. It has caused confusion and discord. It shows disrespect to currently competing athletes. It also has resulted in some of the younger athletes blaming Nassar’s victims, which is very painful.”

Again, no arguments there. I covered all of that here. The current athletes blaming the victims is a bit of a shock, but not particularly surprising. Sad, but not surprising.

But here’s where Manly gets himself into trouble:

“It is the hope of our clients that someone explain to these young athletes that but for Maggie Nichols, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and the other survivors speaking up, they would have been molested by Larry Nassar this very week.”

That is … so wrong on so many levels, albeit right in one very important way: if the survivors had not been listened to (finally), the abuse would be ongoing.

However…this is a clear case of “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” I cannot even BEGIN to sum up how wrong it is to specifically tell the gymnasts who are currently competing to, essentially, “listen and respect your elders, brats. Without them, you’d still be getting (insert explanation of choice of Larry’s behavior) this week.”

Aside from the fact that Manly’s comments veer into victim blaming (which I despise with a passion), let’s consider for a moment the athletes we knew were at camp this week. A good numbers of those athletes – at least nine at my count – were elites by July of 2015, at the U.S. Classic. I won’t attempt to guess how many of those had been to the ranch by that point, but it begs the following statement.

We don’t know that any of those athletes escaped Nassar’s abuse. Manly might, if any of those athletes have approached him to join the lawsuits, but I can’t make a statement one way or another there. If even one of these currently elites was abused by Nassar, it takes the concept of victim blaming to an entirely new level.

What’s becoming abundantly clear in the latest round of bleaching of USA Gymnastics is that there is still not a united front. The survivors are unhappy because not enough is happening fast enough. The current elites are unhappy because things are happening too fast without any explanation. The inevitable apparently occurred this week – the two groups becoming unhappy with each other.

Let’s get one thing straight: the survivors did nothing wrong. Without them, yes, the abuse would be likely ongoing. The fact that so many victims piled up over decades shows just how USAG and Michigan State failed these young women (and in at least one instance, a young man). Those survivors deserve every bit of our support.

The problem right now is: just how many more survivors are there? I think it’s fair to say that for the 300-plus victims that have already come forward, there are probably many more still in silence. The victim impact statements at the Nassar trial revealed many more names than many would have guessed, but it would be hubris to assume that is all of them.

ALL of the survivors of this deserve support. It’s time for the groups to start working together to move forward. No more pointing fingers. No more lawyers trying to make headlines. No more spouting about empowerment but failing to empower anyone.

What we know, what we don’t know – and what we suspect

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.

This has been a long time coming

Hi, all, and welcome to this new discussion blog for gymnastics. While I will tend to focus on NCAA gymnastics, really, the discussion will cover the entire sport – the good, the bad and the ugly. I hope to offer some insight, opinions and humor along the way.

Thanks for checking in!