Scott M. Reid has yet again published another article detailing the shortcomings of USAG. This time it involves a security consultant who was fired by USAG who feels he was terminated because he reported allegations to SafeSport. The article can be found here, below are my (many) thoughts on this latest fiasco.
Rhythmic and Recent
One thing I want to clear up immediately, this is not a case of newly revealed information regarding misconduct from USAG that is deep in the past. This latest Scott M. Reid article stems from a May 12th incident of 2021 from only a few months ago.
Whereas most of the focus regarding USAG’s shortcomings involve artistic gymnastics, the sport Simone Biles competes in, this article involves rhythmic gymnastics (RG). Within the American program RG is something of a neglected discipline because it is not as popular, allowing its problems to avoid media scrutiny.
Another issue is rhythmic gymnastics is more prone to the “old way” of doing things because the sport has not been under as much pressure to change in recent years. It is great that a security consultant is emphasizing attention in RG’s direction and realized this discipline has cultural changes that need to be made. And he took a stand that enforcement of those changes won’t be neglected simply because the sport is of a smaller profile than artistic gymnastics.
The Return of Contradictions
One of the biggest failures of USAG during the Steve Penny era was USAG officials and subordinates who answer to senior USAG administrators were given contradictory information regarding their status as mandatory reporters. Those employed by USAG were on one hand instructed that by law, they had to report on information they received regarding allegations of child abuse. Only to later be instructed that USAG’s internal policies dictated that they should not report any inappropriate behavior they heard/witnessed to the proper legal authorities.
This created confusion within USAG’s ranks regarding what to do in the event that an individual is made aware of sexual misconduct involving a gymnast as the policies were in direct contradiction of each other. Even worse, said policy created a culture that actively discouraged USAG officials and its subordinates from reporting allegations/suspicions of child abuse.
The revelations of this article make it fundamentally clear that this high-profile failure from the Steve Penny era, which should have been at the very top of USAG’s list of reforms that need to be made, not only never fixed, but continues to thrive in the current environment. The SafeSport violation in question was two security consultants witnessed RG coaches slapping gymnasts on the butt. Scott M. Reid cites word for word from SafeSport’s code of conduct that “touching, slapping, or otherwise contacting the buttocks or genitals of a Participant” is a violation.
On two separate occasions in the article an incident is cited and Scott M. Reid includes the text from the SafeSport code specifically describing this behavior as a violation. One incident involves the previously mentioned slapping a gymnast on the butt, the other incident involves coercing a gymnast to continue performing while injured. But in both cases USAG voiced objections to these incidents being reported as SafeSport violations.
Under Li Li Leung we are seeing a near-identical repeat of the Steve Penny era cultural failure that an incident which is specifically mentioned in the SafeSport code as a violation should not be reported to SafeSport. Like the Steve Penny era, we are once again seeing a situation where USAG is actively encouraging those under its leadership to defy written policies, bringing USAG right back into the fold of the cultural failures that were so prevalent when Larry Nassar was abusing athletes.
Slowing Down Background Checks?
But what I found by far to be the most alarming revelation of the article was USAG is once again, appearing to slow down background checks. It should be noted the article doesn’t specifically allege that USAG slowed down background checks in 2021, but it states USAG knows about existing weaknesses it has in its background checking system and won’t fix them. The implication being that USAG could have a faster and more efficient background checking system, but chooses not to.
It’s all semantics at this point because “not going faster” is virtually the exact same thing as “going slow” And for an evil organization like USAG lead by the odious Li Li Leung, the “benefit” to them is the same regardless. By slowing down background checks that is less allegations of misconduct USAG is made aware of. Thereby limiting USAG’s exposure and liability in civil court.
By having less allegations on its docket, that is less coaches/officials USAG has to formally sanction which minimizes negative press attention. It also lowers the number of USAG coaches/staff that have been sanctioned by USAG and presents statistics which imply sexual and coaching abuse are less prevalent within the sport than actually is.
The article alleges USAG’s background check system does not have “real-time” capability. Meaning if a coach is arrested for a crime, USAG would not be made immediately aware of that. Creating the potential for someone to be arrested and return to coaching immediately after making bail. The article goes as far as to say USAG was “hesitant” to hire a background firm with such capability. Meaning, the capability is there, but USAG simply does not want it.
There is also a “two-year gap” in the USAG background check system because the system only checks individuals once every two years. This means, if a coach passes a background check and then does something the next day that would “flag” said individual, he or she would be able to coach for an additional two years before the system identifies the risk.
Not only is this flaw known to USAG, but a USAG official stated this specific scenario “has happened before.” In other words, the flaw is there, USAG knows the flaw is there, USAG can even link cases that were directly impacted by this flaw, and yet the flaw remains.
Li Li Leung is the Ghost of Steve Penny
As longtime readers are aware, I have detested Li Li Leung from the start. But my reservations stemmed from her being too similar in background to Steve Penny for my liking. But what this most recent article makes clear, Li Li Leung isn’t so much similar to Steve Penny, but they display an identical mindset. I can’t believe that after all these years that USAG is once again in a position where it appears to be actively discouraging the emergence of abuse allegations involving children and violating written policies. All in the name of protecting its exposure in civil court.
The two previous sections of this TMC article involve the two most pressing, alarming, and concerning issues of cultural failure USAG experienced during the Nassar scandal. They were the two most important areas requiring reform. As of May 2021, these issues have not been addressed and continue to dominate USAG’s thought process. If not are still openly endorsed by Li Li Leung herself.
And if it feels rash to liken the policies of Li Li Leung as identical to the policies of Steve Penny, this is what a security consultant said to USAG in 2021:
“That’s not the policy and also isn’t that what got USAG in trouble in the first place?”
If Li Li Leung is willing to discourage the reporting of any violation that is laid out word for word in the SafeSport code, what else will she discourage? Will she discourage the reporting of morally repugnant behavior that is not specifically disallowed in the SafeSport code? If she isn’t willing to report one of SafeSport’s most specific and clear-cut policies, what else won’t she report? These are questions that must be asked now that Li Li Leung has opened the Pandora’s box. We don’t know what precisely Li Li Leung is capable of when it comes to hindering allegations of abuse from within USAG’s ranks.
It is alarming that a security official presented concerns over the direction USAG is heading in fostering a safe environment for its athletes and Li Li Leung’s response was to get rid of him and his firm. What kind of message does this send to the rest of USAG’s rank and order? More importantly, how will they respond? Will they see the ouster of James Cameron and take that as a signal to keep their head down, not stick their neck out, and not object to harmful policies?
James Cameron was the security consultant whose firm was fired over the objections he raised. The Scott M. Reid article states three USAG officials are “being investigated by the U.S. Center for SafeSport for allegedly retaliating against Cameron.” Because if there is one common theme to USAG, the organization reeks of incompetence who still manages to get caught even while trying to do the wrong and bury a problem.
There is also much to be said about the competency of Li Li Leung. By creating a rift with a former USAG insider, all she has achieved is airing out more of USAG’s dirty laundry now that said individual has gone public. Li Li Leung displays bad tactics and has a flawed thought process. Cameron would raise this point himself by stating “If she didn’t know then it’s a failure on the part of her staff” in regards to Li Li Leung appearing to be unaware of a report he filed to SafeSport.
For someone who is one of the highest paid administrators within the American Olympic sports system, Li Li Leung was at not aware of a SafeSport complaint filed by someone who directly works for her organization.
That’s my thoughts on this latest story and USAG is such a mess that I can’t even think of how to conclude this article. Only to say that clearly the problems aren’t solved and it won’t be long until I have to write yet another article covering USAG’s shortcomings.