Insult to injury as U.S. Gymnastics and USOC hire unqualified lobbyist from scorched-earth law firm

Updated: Oct 16, 2018

Merely 10 days after latest U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee Hearing “Protecting U.S. Amateur Athletes: Examining Abuse Prevention Efforts Across the Olympic Movement” that featured five NGB heads testifying before Congress, USA Gymnastics Board and the USOC continued its tin eared playbook in appointing Mary Bono, a former student of Scientology, intérim CEO of the off-the-rails USA Gymnastics. This is the same Mary Bono who on September 7 tweeted “...unfortunately had these (Nike) shoes in my bag. Luckily I had a marker in my bag too…”

The “Honorable” Mary Bono, widow of deceased Congressman Sonny Bono, was - surprise, surprise, most recently a lobbyist at the notorious law firm Baker Daniels. That very law firm has for decades represented USA Gymnastics, and advised them on scorched-earth tactics of retaliation vs. athletes and families alleging sexual abuse by Larry Nassar and other criminals. According to the Indianapolis Star (2/5/18):

“one of the key people involved in advising USA Gymnastics on policies related to sexual abuse: then Attorney Jack Swarbrick. In an interview with IndyStar, Mike Jacki, USA Gymnastics president from 1983 to 1994, said Swarbrick discouraged the organization from distributing a booklet on child abuse to its members. And former President Steve Penny, who served from 2005 to 2017, cited Swarbrick as the organization's legal counsel in a 2015 deposition and said sexual abuse issues were "managed by our attorney."

Swarbrick is the current Athletic Director of Notre Dame. He was was a prominent attorney and indeed the lead Outside Counsel from Baker Daniels for US Gymnastics, while Larry Nasser abused hundreds of victims. This same firm employed Mary Bono as a lobbyist before her hiring by USA Gymnastics last week.

As we have previously highlighted in our Op-Ed on USOC REFORM, the American “Olympic Industry” is a closed eco-system of insiders. It is not a coincidence that former Notre Dame Assistant Athletic Director Dan White, now a successful Athletic Director at Duke University, is one of a dozen-odd outside Directors at the USOC.

Prominent Gymnasts, Members of Congress and commentators have taken note of the egregious appointment of Mary Bono as interim CEO. Gold Medalist Gymnast Simon Biles tweeted:

USA Gymnastics stated that they were advised in this search by Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm that has traditionally helped the USOC leadership keep their insider game in full stride by recruiting conflicted, unqualified (except for whom they know) mid-level executives into key leadership positions, like USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland.

Mary Bono continues this tradition in fine fashion. Bono’s resume (that includes lobbying for the lead outside counsel for USA Gymnastics, whose entire board was forced to resign in 2017, in addition to its CEO and Chair) highlights the lack of experience running anything like USAG, nor anything commercial, since running a restaurant with Sonny Bono decades ago before taking over his House seat. Mary Bono is however, as is her de-facto boss new USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland (the former (Casey) Wasserman sports agent who admits she “does not know a lot” about the USOC and its issues), “is up for the challenge”. This is another new low for our Olympic Movement’s wayward leadership, more of the same arrogance that comes from an out of touch “too big to fail” mindset that is the ethos of USOC.

We can only conclude that USAG, like their parent USOC, is lead by hubris, self interest and entitlement, and that they in October of 2018 continue to blatantly ignore the athletes and the Larry Nassar survivors, not to mention an eagle-eyed Congress intent on real USOC reform in 2019, as the collapse of the USOC, USA Gymnastics and other wayward NGBs HOUSE OF CARDS continues.

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