AT&T Latest to Abandon USA Gymnastics After Sex Abuse ScandalBy
Sponsors provide about $6 million in revenue to the sport
Former team doctor pleaded guilty to molesting girls
As more details have emerged about a former USA Gymnastics team doctor’s decades of sexual abuse of more than 100 young, female athletes, gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman has pointed her finger at the organization that, she said, is "rotting from the inside."
USA Gymnastics is also facing consequences from the outside. AT&T Inc. announced Tuesday that it suspended its partnership with the sport’s domestic governing body, the fifth major brand to step away from the organization since news of the scandal broke. Under Armour ended its deal early; Hershey Co., Kellogg Co. and Procter & Gamble Co. declined to renew existing sponsorships, according to ESPN.
AT&T said in a statement that it would consider resuming its partnership once USA Gymnastics “is re-built and we know that the athletes are in a safe environment. The terrible abuse suffered by these young women is unconscionable.”
The phone giant made its announcement as current and former gymnasts -- 158 in total -- continue to speak in court about sexual abuse committed by Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor for almost 20 years, ending in 2015. The accusations come from women as young as six at the time of the abuse, and span decades, making it one of the worst sexual abuse scandals in the U.S. in recent history.
Losing corporate partners is a significant blow to the organization. Sponsorships and marketing accounted for about a quarter of USA Gymnastics’ $23.7 million of recorded revenue in 2015, according to the Orange County Register.
Many of the gymnasts who were abused by Nassar are also suing USA Gymnastics, accusing the organization of not doing enough to prevent the assaults, or of allowing them to continue. Earlier this week, the federation’s chairman Paul Parilla, vice chairman Jay Binder and treasurer Bitsy Kelley announced they were stepping down. John Geddert, the coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team who’d hired Nassar at his Michigan gym, was suspended.
"New board leadership is necessary because the current leaders have been focused on establishing that they did nothing wrong," USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun said in a statement. "USA Gymnastics needs to focus on supporting the brave survivors."
The federation’s former chief executive, Steve Penny, was forced out last year as the allegations against Nassar began receiving national attention. In another change more recently, the organization cut ties with the Karolyi Ranch in rural Texas, an official team training center where some of Nassar’s abuses took place.
Though Blackmun admitted that the entire "Olympic family" failed the victims, Raisman went a step further, criticizing the USOC for not acting sooner. In a post on her Twitter account, she called for an independent investigation of both USA Gymnastics and the USOC, something both organizations are resisting. "What’s it going to take for you to do the right thing?" she asked.
Gymnastics is one of the most popular and successful sports under the USOC umbrella and the parent organization supports the sport commensurately. Out of about $50 million that the USOC distributed to sport governing bodies in 2016, USA Gymnastics got $2.9 million, more than every group except USA Track & Field, USA Swimming and U.S. Ski & Snowboard.
Michigan State University, which employed Nassar for almost two decades, is also under scrutiny. The Detroit News reported last week that at least 14 MSU employees were made aware of Nasser’s abuse -- through a Title IX complaint and police report -- including President Lou Anna Simon. At least six state lawmakers and one university trustee have called on Simon to resign.
Nassar, 54, is expected to be sentenced this week. The Michigan attorney general’s office is seeking 40 years to 125 years. He had already been sentenced separately to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges.