Beleaguered USA Gymnastics has named a new president and CEO — its fourth in two years — as the sport’s governing body battles criticism that it ignored and even enabled widespread sex abuse by former team doctor Larry Nassar.
Li Li Leung’s appointment was announced on Tuesday. She has a long history in athletics, both as a child gymnast and a sports business professional, most recently serving as a vice president of the NBA. She said she hopes to use that experience to help transform the culture for athletes and “rid our sport of the opportunity for abuse to occur again.”
“Like everyone, I was upset and angry to learn about the abuse and the institutions that let the athletes down,” Leung said in a statement. “I admire the courage and strength of the survivors, and I will make it a priority to see that their claims are resolved.”
In a call with reporters, Leung conceded that taking on the new role would likely be her greatest personal and professional challenge.
John Manly, an attorney representing Nassar survivors, objected to Leung’s appointment, saying in a statement that survivors had been excluded from the process. He dismissed Leung as “a consummate insider.”
USA Gymnastics is the subject of dozens of lawsuits brought on by hundreds of Nassar survivors. It has conceded that “USA Gymnastics is one of the organizations that let them down.”
Nassar, who has been sentenced to decades behind bars on multiple sex abuse charges, has a history long entangled with USA Gymnastics. In 1986, he joined as an athletic trainer, eventually rising to medical coordinator, before retiring in 2014, according to a timeline compiled by the Lansing State Journal.
Hundreds of women and girls, including high-profile Olympic gymnasts, have accused him of sexually abusing them under the guise of medical treatment. As Nassar stood trial, his accusers stepped forward to detail not only their stories of abuse but also a system that enabled it. A picture emerged of powerful organizations working to protect Nassar, instead of the athletes. The ensuing fallout has ensnared the United States Olympic Committee and Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked.
But USA Gymnastics in particular has come under scathing criticism, and in recent months its leadership has filtered through a revolving door.
In January 2018, the entire board announced its resignation. In October, Steve Penny, a former president, was arrested and charged with the felony of tampering with evidence of Nassar’s abuse during the investigation, according to the indictment. Two other USA Gymnastics presidents served short tenures before being forced out over accusations of missteps relating to Nassar.
By December, USA Gymnastics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And the U.S. Olympic Committee has been working to revoke its status as the sport’s governing body.
On Tuesday, Leung said she wants to help rebuild USA Gymnastics, with her first priority being an “equitable” resolution to the lawsuits it faces. Next, she is seeking to create “an athlete-led, athlete-driven organization where safety is central to everything we do.”
“For me, this is much more than a job: It is a personal calling, for which I stand ready to answer.”
Leung began competing as an elite gymnast as a girl. In 1988, she represented the U.S. at the Junior Pan American Games. While a student at the University of Michigan, she competed for the school’s gymnastics team, later working for its athletics department. She has worked as the NBA’s vice president of global partnerships since February 2015.
Manly, the survivors’ attorney, said he was dubious about Leung’s sports marketing experience.
“That is exactly the wrong background to implement change to protect children,” Manly said. “However, she’s the right pick to protect USAG/USOC secrets and change nothing. That’s precisely why the USOC/USAG leadership selected her.”
But Leung said on the call with reporters that she had sought the position herself.
“I have bled, I have sweated, I have cried alongside my teammates,” Leung said, “and it breaks my heart to see the state that the sport is in today.”
Her first day on the new job is March 8.