USOC moves to shut down USA Gymnastics after Nassar scandal
By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer
Tuesday, November 6
The U.S. Olympic Committee took steps Monday to decertify USA Gymnastics as the governing body for the sport at the Olympic level, choosing to pursue the nuclear option for an organization that botched its own rebuilding attempt in the wake of a sex-abuse scandal involving former team doctor Larry Nassar.
In an open letter to the gymnastics community, USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said “you deserve better,” and that the challenges facing USA Gymnastics are more than it is capable of overcoming as currently constructed.
The USOC itself also has faced criticism for not responding quickly and appropriately to sex abuse cases, and though the move was cheered by the gymnast whose own revelations helped propel Nassar’s years of abuse to the fore — “THANK YOU,” tweeted Rachel Denhollander — others viewed it as a ploy to shift blame for the scandal.
“Today’s announcement by USOC seeks only to deflect from their total failure over decades to protect the gymnasts in their care,” said a statement from attorneys Michelle Simpson Tuegel and Mo Aziz, who represent Olympian Tasha Schwikert and her sister, Jordan, in their lawsuit against USAG and the USOC.
Earlier this year, the USOC said it was seeking to remove itself as a defendant from a number of lawsuits — including those filed by gold medalists McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman — claiming Nassar never worked for the federation, nor were his crimes foreseeable by the USOC. The lawsuits claim the USOC, as the umbrella organization that oversees USA Gymnastics, should have done more when it learned of the abuse.
It did push for new leadership at USA Gymnastics, but even with a new board of directors that started in June, the organization made repeated mistakes while dealing with the aftermath of revelations that the now-imprisoned Nassar molested Olympians while working as a volunteer. Those included the botched hiring of a program coordinator and an interim CEO to replace Kerry Perry, who lasted barely nine months on the job after the USOC forced out Steve Penny.
The announcement comes only days after the U.S. team brought home nine medals from the World Championships in the first major meet in the lead-up to Tokyo in 2020. Five of those were individual medals won by Olympic champion Simone Biles, who is among the athletes who have not hesitated to criticize the organization.
By moving to decertify USA Gymnastics, the USOC is taking major action against an organization that never grasped control over its own rebuilding. But the move could also leave a void that cannot be easily filled. In addition to supporting elite and Olympic athletes, and selecting teams and coaches for international competitions, USA Gymnastics serves more than 150,000 athletes in 3,000 clubs around the country. There is no other organization standing by to fill that need.
“Seeking to revoke recognition is not a decision that we have come to easily, but I believe it is the right action,” Hirshland said. “In the short-term, we will work to ensure that America’s gymnasts have the support necessary to excel on and off the field of play. We are building plans to do just that no matter the outcome of the revocation process.”
The federal law that governs the USOC gives the federation final say on which organizations represent each sport at the Olympics, and also establishes a process to decertify the organizations. But that process is used only under the most extreme circumstances. One example came in 1994 when the USOC recommended decertifying the NRA as the governing body for shooting, and the NRA accepted the decision. The USOC also has dictated changes and placed its own administrators in charge of smaller NGBs in need of overhauls. The USOC could take a major role in shaping, even possibly running, whatever agency takes USA Gymnastics’ place.
Hirshland said she has given USA Gymnastics the option of surrendering its recognition voluntarily, though there was no indication of which direction USAG would go. It issued a statement saying it was looking at the USOC letter “and is evaluating the best path forward for our athletes, professional members, the organization and staff.”
The statement detailed the challenges the new board has faced since taking over in June.
It is in search of its fourth president and CEO in the last 19 months thanks to a series of resignations, all of them under pressure from the USOC or the gymnastics’ community at large.
Penny — named as a co-defendant in several civil lawsuits filed by former elite gymnasts— stepped down in March 2017. He was arrested last month and charged with destroying or hiding documents related to Nassar’s activities at the Karolyi Ranch, the ex-national training center near Huntsville, Texas, where a number of gymnasts said Nassar abused them.
The organization named Perry as Penny’s replacement but her tenure lasted barely nine months. She was criticized by several high-profile gymnasts, Biles included, for failing to offer a clear vision on the way forward and quit in September.
Her resignation came shortly after the hiring, then quick removal, of Mary Lee Tracy as elite development coordinator; Tracy had been supportive of Nassar when the allegations first surfaced.
USA Gymnastics brought on former U.S. Representative Mary Bono to serve as interim president and CEO last month. Bono didn’t last a week, stepping away after drawing criticism for an Instagram post she made shortly before she was hired that was critical of Nike placing former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick at the forefront of a marketing campaign.
All these moves simply added fuel to those who were seeking the total dismantling of USAG.
Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, the first gymnast to sue USAG, said she grew tired of USAG’s “cynical PR statements about how much they care about athletes.”
“It is time for this organization to be replaced,” she said. “My only regret is that it has taken the U.S. Olympic Committee so long to act.”
AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this report.
Steelers rolling as Bell hints possible return
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Monday, November 5
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Le’Veon Bell might be ready to head back to work. The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t exactly look like they need him.
The star running back tweeted “Farewell Miami” on Monday, possibly indicating the end of his months-long standoff with the club. Bell hasn’t been inside the Pittsburgh locker room since last January, opting to stay away rather than sign his one-year franchise tender. The two-time All-Pro has sacrificed half of the $14.4 million he’s due this season but needs to report by Nov. 13 to make sure he accrues enough service time to reach free agency in March.
Bell’s extended absence initially created a furor inside the locker room. Now, it seems almost like an afterthought. The Steelers (5-2-1) have ripped off four straight victories heading into Thursday night’s visit from Carolina (6-2), relying heavily on James Conner — Bell’s replacement — to surge into the lead in the AFC North.
Conner topped 100 yards rushing for a fourth straight week during a 23-16 victory over Baltimore on Sunday, and caught his first career touchdown pass when he took a short flip from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and bulled past Baltimore safety Eric Weddle at the pylon.
“He’s showing that no challenge is too big for him, against the No. 1 defense or whoever it might be,” Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva said of Conner. “You know when you’re so close to him, and he lowers his shoulder, and you see him get a couple yards, it’s extremely motivating.”
Conner is second in the league in all-purpose yards and touches behind Los Angeles Rams standout Todd Gurley and tied for fourth in total touchdowns. The second-year back hardly seems bothered by the heavy workload, saying he’s built for it. So does his coach.
“I agree with James,” Mike Tomlin said Monday when asked about Conner’s personal assessment.
Tomlin smiled as he answered, mirroring the considerably lighter mood around his team these days. The problems that plagued the Steelers during September have vanished, though Tomlin is reticent to point to any one area where his team has improved.
“I’m not trying to look for specific areas, I just try to challenge these guys to get better every day,” Tomlin said. “That’s what we’re focused on. I think that if we do that daily that will give us a chance to produce consistent performances that are on the rise. Not only in the second quarter (of the season) but as we continue through this journey.”
It’s a pattern that’s become well established during Tomlin’s 12 years on the job. The Steelers have been traditionally slow starters under his watch, then get it together as the days grow shorter.
Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed more than 21 points during its four-game run and the secondary that was torched regularly in the opening month has settled in. Coty Sensabaugh has taken over for Artie Burns at the cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden and rookie safety Terrell Edmunds has filled in capably while veteran Morgan Burnett heals from a series of injuries that have slowed him since training camp.
The Steelers aren’t exactly overwhelming opponents but considering the firepower on offense, overwhelming teams isn’t required. Pittsburgh gave up at least 327 yards in each of its first four games. The Steelers haven’t surrendered more than 324 yards over their last four.
“Our defense is working in the right direction,” safety Sean Davis said. “We held the Ravens to 16 points … and I feel like we’re putting together winning performances. As long as the defense continues to do that, and with our offense playing the way they’re playing, we’re just going to continue riding the roller coaster. Our trajectory is high.”
Considerably higher than it appeared while getting repeatedly torched during the opening month. Yet the job is still only halfway done. The schedule remains daunting. If Bell — whenever he shows up — can return to at least some semblance of the form that made him an All-Pro last season, Pittsburgh could be a tough out. If he can’t, they like their chances anyway.
“It’s still going to be a long ride,” linebacker Bud Dupree said. “It was great that we got the win to get on top of the division again. We’ve got another game against the Bengals. We just need to be sure to dominate everywhere.”
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John Elway says coach Vance Joseph’s job is safe for now
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
Monday, November 5
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — John Elway says he’s going to “stay the course” with Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph despite his 8-17 record.
Elway told Broncos broadcasting partner Orange & Blue 760 that he’s encouraged by the team’s improvement despite its 3-6 record, which is identical to last year’s mark after nine games.
“At this point in time, we’re going to stay the course. I think there’s enough good things that are going on as far as us and the way that we’re playing,” Elway said. “I’m much more encouraged this year than I was last year.”
A year ago, the Broncos were in the midst of a franchise-worst eight-game skid that included its first shutout in a quarter century and a series of double-digit losses.
This year, they’ve hung tough with some of the league’s top teams, losing by a combined 16 points to the Texans (6-3), Rams (8-1) and Chiefs (8-1) twice.
Brandon McManus missed a 51-yard field goal attempt as time expired in their crushing 19-17 loss to Houston on Sunday .
Although the Broncos have lost six of their last seven, Joseph hasn’t lost the locker room.
“I like the heartbeat of this team and the fact that they’re competitors and they continue to work hard,” Elway said. “As you know, they’re very, very frustrated because they’ve put in a lot of hard work and they’re not getting paid back for all the work they put in with the win.”
Earlier this season, Elway said it was difficult to make many changes midseason and he reiterated that Monday.
“You’d love to have the magic wand and throw the fairy dust on this thing and have some good things happen and get us over the hump,” Elway said. “We’ve been in six one-score games, so I’m much more encouraged this year than I was last year because I think that guys are still playing hard and we’re in games.”
Elway acknowledged last year that he considered firing Joseph after his 5-11 rookie season
Joseph said this summer that he knew he had to get off to a fast start in 2018 for his job security but in the midst of another trying season, he said Monday his focus is on football, not his employment.
“That’s not my concern right now, my future,” Joseph said. “It’s about the players and the coaches and winning football games.”
Joseph has taken heat for his clock management at the end of both halves Sunday, when McManus missed consecutive kicks for the first time in his five-year NFL career, a 62-yarder in the second quarter that led to a field goal by Houston instead and a 51-yarder as time expired that would have given Denver a 20-19 win.
Joseph accepted the blame for the first one, saying he got greedy in going for the long field goal and leaving the Texans enough time to kick their own field goal for a six-point swing at the half.
“Put that on me,” Joseph said. “I was chasing points. That’s wrong.”
Joseph, however, staunchly defended his decision-making on the second one when he decided not to risk Case Keenum getting sacked again after the Broncos had crossed the Houston 35-yard line with about 40 seconds left.
Phillip Lindsay ran up the middle for minus-1 yard and then Denver called timeout with three seconds left.
“I have no problem with how we handled that situation,” Joseph said.
However, McManus is much more accurate from inside of 50 yards than outside.
He’s 23 of 30 in his career between 40 and 49 yards for a 77 percent clip.
From 50-plus yards, he’s just 13 of 25 for a 52 percent success rate.
“Our field-goal line was the 35-yard line. We got to the 33,” Joseph said. “So, at that point, yardage-wise we were good. Obviously, with that pass rush, I wasn’t going to drop back again and allow (Whitney) Mercilus, (Jadeveon) Clowney and (J.J.) Watt to hit the quarterback and the ball’s on the turf and now we lose the game.
“So, my thought process was we have the yards we need. Let’s try to pop a run and get five or six more yards and kick the field goal and win the game. But I wasn’t going to expose our quarterback and our O-line to that pass rush one more time and now if they make a play, now we’re all idiots, right?
“It’s easy Monday morning to say that wasn’t right. But I’m very comfortable with that.”
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