Interim president Mary Bono resigns from USA Gymnastics

ByABC News
October 18, 2018, 7:26 AM

Former congresswoman Mary Bono announced Tuesday that she has resigned as interim president and CEO of USA Gymnastics after a tenure of four days.

Bono's selection had been immediately criticized by several high-profile gymnasts, including Olympic gold-medal winners Simone Biles and Aly Raisman.

Raisman questioned Bono's association with law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, which advised USA Gymnastics during the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

"Why hire someone associated with the firm that helped cover up our abuse?" Raisman asked.

Biles took issue with Bono's response to Nike's advertising campaign featuring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Bono, who was appointed to her new roles on Friday, recently posted a photo of herself blacking out a Nike logo on a golf shoe. In response, Biles tweeted: "*mouth drop* ... don't worry, it's not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything."

In a statement announcing her resignation, Bono said: "It is with profound regret, coupled with a deep love for the sport of gymnastics and respect for those who aspire to be great gymnasts, that I today tendered my resignation as the Interim CEO of USA Gymnastics. ... My withdrawal comes in the wake of personal attacks that, left undefended, would have made my leading USAG a liability for the organization."

Bono said in her statement she proudly stood behind her work at Faegre Baker Daniels.

Tuesday, after Bono announced her resignation, Raisman tweeted that her objections to Bono's hiring weren't personal.

Regarding Kaepernick, Bono said, "He nationally exercised his first amendment right to kneel [during the national anthem]. I exercised mine."

She said her response stemmed from her connection to families who lost a member of the armed services. She said she had lost her brother-in-law, a Navy SEAL, and she took issue with the "sacrificing everything" part of the Nike-Kaepernick campaign. "It was an emotional reaction to the sponsor's use of that phrase that caused me to tweet, and I regret that at the time I did not better clarify things," Bono wrote.

The USA Gymnastics board of directors issued a statement Tuesday saying it had accepted Bono's resignation.

"Despite her commitment to the sport of gymnastics and helping the organization move forward, we believe this is in the best interest of the organization," the statement said. "We, as a Board, are committed to taking action when we believe a change of course is necessary and to being responsive to our gymnastics community."

Bono was to be a stopgap while USA Gymnastics searched for a permanent successor to Kerry Perry, who resigned under pressure from the United States Olympic Committee in September after spending nine months on the job.

Bono's brief tenure was preceded by another high-profile departure. USA Gymnastics moved on from coach Mary Lee Tracy on Aug. 31 -- just three days after she was hired -- saying she "inappropriately" contacted a survivor of sexual abuse by Nassar.

"Selecting [Bono] as interim president was an insult to every survivor and shows a complete disregard for the safety of child athletes," said John Manly, a California-based attorney who represents more than 100 women suing USA Gymnastics for its failure to stop Nassar. "USA Gymnastics should be decertified immediately as the governing body for gymnastics in the U.S. It should be replaced by a body with credible/competent leadership that includes survivors. USAG is a disgrace to our current athletes, to the survivors and our nation."

CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a statement that the USOC remains committed to working with USA Gymnastics to find a permanent leader to build a world-class organization. 

"Both the USOC staff and myself will continue to work closely with USAG in both the short and long term as they search for a new leader," Hirshland said. "The well-being of Team USA athletes is our top priority as we manage this process."

Bono spent 15 years as a U.S. representative from Southern California from 1998 to 2013. She won her first term in a special election running as a Republican to fill the vacancy left by the death of her husband, former pop star and lawmaker Sonny Bono.

Mary Bono, 57, has a background in gymnastics. She trained at several clubs for a decade and said she wanted to be part of the solution for a sport that is now searching for its fourth president in the past 18 months. Steve Penny resigned under pressure from the USOC in March 2017. Perry replaced Penny on Dec. 1, 2017, but stepped away after Hirshland said the organization "is struggling to manage its obligations effectively and it is time to consider making adjustments in the leadership."

Bono pointed to her own experiences as a young gymnast, when she says she witnessed "assaulting behavior" by a coach, as a way to help facilitate the change USA Gymnastics is seeking.

"I would have brought a fire in the belly to ensure that no one as taken as I was with gymnastics at that age should have to choose between abuse or ambition, or between properly speaking out and promoting personal success," Bono said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.