Kerry Perry, whose nine-month tenure as USA Gymnastics CEO was marked by heavy criticism and little tangible action in helping the organization recover from the Larry Nassar scandal, has resigned under pressure.
Her resignation was announced Tuesday morning in a letter from USA Gymnastics board chair Karen Golz.
“As you know, USA Gymnastics has been in the midst of a difficult and painful transition to ensure that the safety and interests of our athletes remain at the heart of our mission,” Golz wrote. “While much as been accomplished over the past several months to stabilize the organization, we still face tremendous challenges as we all work to achieve fundamental changes to move our sport forward.”
Board member Brent Lang, a gold medalist in swimming at the 1988 Olympics, will chair the search committee for a new president and CEO. In the meantime, the board has established a management committee – Golz did not indicate who is on that – and will immediately begin the search for an interim CEO.
Perry’s departure was considered inevitable after new U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland told USA TODAY Sports on Friday night that it was “time to consider making adjustments in the leadership.” Hirshland’s statement followed a tumultuous week in which USA Gymnastics hired a coach, who had supported Nassar after he’d been indicted, to be the developmental coordinator.
USA Gymnastics was ultimately forced to backtrack after the move was strongly denounced by survivors, including Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman.
More: USA Gymnastics asks coach who defended Nassar to resign
More: USOC chief says it’s time to consider USA Gymnastics CEO change
But the PR nightmare was just the latest for USA Gymnastics under Perry, whose inconsistency in personnel decisions, inability to articulate a clear vision for the future and low public profile caused chaos for an organization looking for bold leadership. USA Gymnastics has lost all of its key sponsors, and its national championships last month were held without a title sponsor, almost unheard of for one of the marquee Olympic sports in the United States.
“That’s a good question. I’m not so sure yet,” Olympic champion Simone Biles said at last month’s U.S. championships, when she was asked if she thought USA Gymnastics was moving in the right direction.
“Hopefully it’s going in the right direction, but nobody can know until Kerry Perry speaks up. So it’s kind of hard.”
Perry had no experience in gymnastics or the Olympic movement when she took over Dec. 1, tasked with reshaping an organization reeling from revelations that Nassar had sexually abused dozens of young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment. The longtime USA Gymnastics and Michigan State physician is serving an effective life sentence after pleading guilty to federal child pornography charges and state charges of sexual abuse.
Among the more than 350 women who said Nassar abused them are Biles, Raisman and fellow Olympic gold medalists McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian.
Previous CEO Steve Penny was forced to resign under pressure from the USOC in March 2017 for the way the organization handled sexual abuse complaints. A review of USA Gymnastics’ practices and policies by former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels found that the governing body needed a “complete cultural change.”
The federation had not done enough to educate staff, members or athletes about protecting children from sexual abuse, Daniels found in her June 2017 report, and the perception was that USA Gymnastics put winning medals ahead of child protection.
Daniels made 70 recommendations, and USA Gymnastics’ then-board of directors adopted all of them unanimously. But almost 15 months later, only 47 percent have been fully implemented, with another 39 percent in progress and 8 percent ongoing.
Of the changes Perry touted that the organization had made, the most notable came at the direction of the USOC after searing testimony by survivors at Nassar’s sentencing hearings highlighted the failures of the organization. The entire board was ordered to resign by the USOC under threat of decertification, and the USOC also dictated what the new board should look like.
Perry has also cited USA Gymnastics’ decision to stop holding monthly training camps at the Karolyi ranch. But that was only done after Biles acknowledged she, too, was a survivor and said having to return to the ranch “breaks my heart even more.”
Perry did create an Athlete Task Force to give current and former athletes a stronger voice in the organization. But its members were not announced until mid-July, and it does not include a single Nassar survivor.
USA Gymnastics remains in mediation with dozens of women who have sued the organization, and it often used that as the reason for Kerry’s low profile. But her lack of interaction with survivors was taken as indifference, further proof that USA Gymnastics was only paying lip service to making substantive changes.
When asked why the federation wasn’t doing something to acknowledge the survivors or promote sexual abuse awareness at the national championships, Perry gave a long-winded response that didn’t address the question.
“In terms of recognition, I hope it’s clear, and we’re going to continue to communicate that it’s clear, that we are all of our athletes’ advocates. That we are here, USA Gymnastics exists, because of our athletes,” Perry said then.
That lack of substance was common from Perry. Though she preached transparency when she began the job, she made very few public statements. After her introductory conference call, she didn’t speak publicly again until May, and most releases during her tenure were “attributable to USA Gymnastics.’’ Whatever statements she did make were sprinkled with clichés and buzzwords like “empowerment” and “path forward.”
Perry fired the head of the women’s program, Rhonda Faehn, without explanation during a training camp, causing such upheaval among the gymnasts the rest of the camp had to be canceled. Yet she has kept on chief operating officer Ron Galimore, who The Indianapolis Star reported in May was part of a coordinated effort between USA Gymnastics and Nassar to provide cover stories for Nassar’s dismissal.
Her interactions with members of Congress were no more informative. Asked to explain USA Gymnastics’ decisions or responses to survivors, Perry would often plead ignorance, saying she had only started in December. When she said that after being asked about a response USA Gymnastics had given in a court filing, it was pointed out that the response had been made just a few days earlier.
Perry also was taken to task by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., who said she owed it to everyone to be more open about the changes USA Gymnastics was making and how that was affecting the organization’s culture.
“Ms. Perry, I’m glad that you’re here today,” Dingell said, “but a lot of people have been wanting to hear from you since you took the job. You’ve got to be transparent with everybody.”
Christine Brennan and Roxanna Scott contributed to this report.