I haven’t spent much time covering the recent allegations of coaching abuse involving Azarian Gymnastics. Having to write about abuse cases is so mentally exhausting that I planned to write about Azarian Gymnastics only if it presented a new low for USA Gymnastics. Unsurprisingly, USAG hit that new low.
The ire of this article is directed at Mark Busby, the legal counsel for USAG. First named to his post in July 2017, Mark Busby had an incredible career as a prosecutor where he specialized in cases involving the physical and sexual abuse of children. Busby had the perfect resume for a USAG position in the immediate aftermath of the Larry Nassar scandal. He represented the direction USAG needed to be heading in, the ideal mindset, and hope that from here on out, USAG would have a better approach in dealing with allegations of abuse.
But like so many USAG administrators, Mark Busby’s time with USA Gymnastics has been a disappointment. And his personal conduct in regards to the Azarian Gymnastics case represents a new low. The first sign of trouble came at the beginning of this recent article which claimed that Busby telephoned the parents of gymnasts who filed abuse allegations against Azarian coach Vanessa Gonzalez. As to the nature of Busby’s call:
“Busby told at least five individuals that USA Gymnastics favored educating Gonzalez instead of issuing extended suspensions for her and two other coaches at Azarian U.S. Gymnastics Training Center, according to four women.”
According to the article, some of these calls went at least a half hour in length. Imagine how difficult that must be for a parent. To have to deal with a phone call from a USAG official where he advocates a slap on the wrist punishment for someone who allegedly abused your child. But it gets even worse. Per the Scott M. Reid article:
“Busby raised the option of education over suspension without having read all of the 15 formal complaints originally filed against Gonzalez and other Azarian coaches with USA Gymnastics, according to three individuals familiar with the case.“
Not only did Busby contact parents, advocated for a woefully lenient and benign punishment for someone accused of abusing their child, he did so while not even being familiar with the finer details of the case. That act represents so much disrespect. But more significantly, it signals that he simply doesn’t care.
If he cared about the young gymnasts involved, Busby would take the time to actually read the formal complaints. If he cared about being respectful towards the parents, he wouldn’t have contacted the parents until he knew the full scope of what happened to their child.
If he cared about justice, Busby would have read the complaints before advocating which type of punishment should be applied to the coach alleged to have committed abuse. To decide which type of punishment to pursue without knowing the severity of the allegations in question is asinine. It means that regardless of how extreme the abuse allegations are, USAG has already made up their minds as to how that want to proceed. And they proceeded in the direction of an overtly soft punishment.
But that isn’t even the part of the Scott M Reid article that I found to be the most disturbing. Instead it was the following:
“Busby also told an Azarian parent that USA Gymnastics has concerns about suspending coaches at a time when he said there is a shortage of qualified coaches in the sport, according to two people familiar with the conversation.“
For USAG to argue against suspending a coach because they can’t find a suitable replacement is precisely what a flawed culture where “winning medals” takes priority over the personal safety and well being of gymnasts looks like. The Azarian Gymnastics case proves that USAG’s conduct is so despicable, they just gave us another textbook example of the “safety over medals” culture at work. Five years after Larry Nassar’s downfall they still haven’t abandoned that mentality.
But what I want to stress the most is that per USAG’s own rhetoric, the coaches involved in the Azarian Gymnastics abuse allegations are still considered “qualified coaches.” Think about that for a second.
According to USAG’s own logic, having major abuse allegations does not disqualify a coach from being considered a quality coach. It means “can gymnasts be entrusted in your care” is not the number one priority when it comes to hiring, firing, and sanctioning coaches. What USAG seems to think is “can you win medals” is the top concern when it comes to crafting responses to allegations of abuse.
I can’t believe I have to say this: It doesn’t matter if every member of the 2016 Olympic team came from your club, if there is a legitimate claim that you are abusive towards gymnasts and can’t be trusted to keep them safe, you are not a qualified coach. I’m willing to bet that a majority of the gymnastics community understands this concept. The only ones who don’t, the people running USAG whose job it is to know that.