If there is one sports organization in this country that deserves every tough question that journalists can throw its way, forevermore, it’s USA Gymnastics. What that national governing body did, and didn’t do, led to the worst sexual abuse scandal in both Olympic history and American sports: the abuse of hundreds of U.S. gymnasts, including the great Simone Biles.
In the years that have followed, a supposedly new and improved federation has emerged with a different set of leaders. Those officials must know that the horrors of the governing body’s history demand that they stand open, ready for all the scrutiny America gives them, be it from Congress, the news media, parents or athletes. This organization, USA Gymnastics, more than any other sports entity, has to be willing to take on every difficult question from every corner, friend or foe. This is that federation’s lot in life.
So how on earth do we explain what happened last weekend at the U.S. gymnastics championships in San Jose, California?
In an utterly outrageous decision, USA Gymnastics banned award-winning sports journalist Scott Reid — who has reported on the issue of abuse in gymnastics for 20 years — from covering the national championships, denying his credential request and subsequent follow-ups, forcing him to actually buy a seat in the arena Sunday to watch the event.
“I’m just dumbfounded that this happened,” Reid, who writes for the Orange County (California) Register, said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “The sport still has a lot of questions to answer and I was hoping to go up there and ask those questions. You’re celebrating this once-in-a-lifetime athlete in Simone Biles, who is returning to the national championships, and you’re trying to ask questions and get answers that I know our readers want to know.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a leading advocate for U.S. Olympic sexual abuse survivors, was critical of the banishment of Reid in a text message to USA TODAY Sports Tuesday afternoon:
“Please say — and show — it isn’t so, USA Gymnastics, because this situation certainly smacks of censorship,” he wrote. “Denying a reporter access to an event simply because an organization doesn’t like their reporting is a disservice to the public and First Amendment values. My office has dealt with this reporter over a number of years and has found him to be fair, accurate, thorough and serious.”
While the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee has no control over the credentialing of the national championships of Olympic sports, Reid said he reached out to a member of the USOPC communications team after finding out his credential request was denied more than a week before the event.
“I was told there was nothing they could do about it but not to worry about this happening during the Olympic year (in 2024), because the USOPC controls the credentialing for the Olympic trials next year and that I’m good with them,” Reid said.
Asked for comment on what can only be described as an embarrassing and muddled mess, a USOPC spokeswoman texted Tuesday:
“Scott reached out to us once he posted his denial of accreditation on Twitter. Because this was not a U.S. Olympic or Paralympic event, we have no influence over USAG’s accreditation process.”
All that being true, I would have thought the USOPC would have moved mountains to avert a public-relations nightmare of this magnitude, but clearly, it did not.
For its part, USA Gymnastics blamed a lack of space in the media tribune for denying Reid’s credential request.
“Media requests for this event were high and exceeded the anticipated capacity of the media tribune,” chief communications and marketing officer Jill Geer wrote in an email. “In our approval process, we prioritized outlets and reporters who have consistently covered gymnastics competitions over the last several years. A wide range of national outlets were credentialed, including many who have been very critical of USA Gymnastics.
“As an organization, we are still evolving. We have listened to the concerns raised. Coming out of this event, we will look at our credentialing processes to see how they can be improved.”
Geer did offer praise for Reid’s long-time coverage of abuse in gymnastics. “The work that Scott and others have done has been important for raising awareness around abuse in sport and society. We have not shied away from difficult questions and have always replied to his inquiries, and we will continue to do so.”
Put it all together and the takeaway is simple: What a ridiculous unforced error this was.
In our interview, Reid spoke of the crucial need for sensitivity among journalists who cover athletes who have been abused, like Biles.
“The thing people don’t realize is that when you’re asking somebody about their abuse,” he said, “whether it’s sexual, physical or mental, you’re asking them to basically relive their abuse, so that’s abuse in itself. You’re asking them basically to be re-abused.
“This is really important. I don’t think readers really appreciate this, but this is something I take really seriously.”
In a first-person piece for the Register about his banishment, Reid wrote about how his reporting had brought to light current U.S. Center for SafeSport investigations of two top gymnastics coaches, Valeri Liukin and Al Fong.
Unlike Reid, both men were credentialed for last weekend’s championships.