USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny resigned Thursday after the United States Olympic Committee board called for his resignation last week amid a sexual abuse scandal involving former U.S. team doctor and alleged serial molester Larry Nassar.
“The Board believes this change in leadership will help USA Gymnastics face its current challenges and implement solutions to move the organization forward in promoting a safe environment for its athletes at all levels,” said Paul Parilla, chairman of the USA Gymnastics board of directors, in a statement.
Parilla will lead the search for Penny’s replacement and “guide the organization’s operations and move forward the initiatives currently in progress to strengthen and refine its policies and procedures for handling sexual misconduct.”
In a statement released by USA Gymnastics, Penny said his decision to step down as CEO is “solely to support the best interests of USA Gymnastics at this time.”
“We all care deeply about the safety of our athletes, which is fundamental to a rewarding experience at any level of gymnastics,” Penny said in the statement. “It has been heartbreaking to learn of instances of abuse and it sickens me that young athletes would be exploited in such a manner.”
The United States Olympic Committee, which previously said that Penny needed to leave his position as head of USA Gymnastics if the governing body was to have any chance of a fresh start after former team doctor Larry Nassar was accused of sexually abusing athletes, hopes the resignation will force much needed change in the organization. Nassar pled not guilty in court back in February.
“Today’s announcement will hopefully allow USA Gymnastics to shift its attention to the future with a secure environment for its athletes and continued success in competition,” USOC Board Chairman Larry Probst said in a statement.
USA Gymnastics has hired a former prosecutor to review policies and make recommendations for changes. The organization also highlights their U.S. Center for SafeSport as an example of progress being made on the issue of child sexual abuse in Olympic sports, reports IndyStar.
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The pressure to enforce institutional changes comes after the startling news that USA Gymnastics informed the FBI of sexual abuse allegations against Dr. Larry Nassar, a longtime national team physician, five weeks after top gymnastics officials were first alerted to suspicions about him.
Nassar is currently charged with 25 counts of criminal sexual conduct and is being held in Michigan without bond on state charges of criminal charges with a person younger than 13 and federal child pornography charges.
Hundreds of young women have come forward and claimed abuse by the doctor since he joined the sport’s governing body in 1996 — including 2000 bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher and former U.S. rhythmic gymnast Jessica Howard.
There are currently multiple lawsuits related to Nassar and USA Gymnastics.