Mary Bono, who was named interim president and CEO of Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics on Friday, resigned Tuesday after coming under fire from high-profile gymnasts and others for her work with law firm Faegre Baker Daniels and her criticism of a Nike ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Bono, 57, had been expected to hold the position while USA Gymnastics searches 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 spent 15 years as a U.S. Representative from Southern California from 1998-2013. 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 most recently worked at a consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
When Bono took the job, she pointed to the opportunity to "reconnect" with a sport she loved growing up. The connection lasted all of four days. She said she felt her affiliation with the embattled organization would be a "liability" after a social media post by Bono criticizing Nike and Kaepernick drew widespread scrutiny within the gymnastics community.
She posted a picture on Twitter in September of herself drawing over a Nike logo on a golf shoe. Bono, who was at a golf tournament for families who have lost members of the armed services at the time, called the tweet "an emotional reaction" to Nike's use of the phrase "believing in something even if it means sacrificing everything."
"I regret that at the time I didn't better clarify my feelings," Bono said in a statement.
Bono defended her right to express her beliefs, though she later deleted the tweet and the USA Gymnastics board of directors expressed its disappointment while pledging its support.
Not everyone, however, was won over by the surprise decision to hire Bono to help USA Gymnastics navigate its way through the fallout of the Larry Nassar scandal. More than 200 women have come forward over the last two years claiming they were sexually abused by Nassar under the guise of treatment during the former doctor's time at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, including current or former members of the organization's elite program.
Olympic champion Simone Biles, who is among Nassar's victims, quote-tweeted Bono's photo concerning Kaepernick on Saturday and wrote: "(asterisk)mouth drop(asterisk) don't worry, it's not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything."
Biles, a Nike-sponsored athlete who will compete at the 2018 world championships in Qatar next week, said on Monday she felt compelled to speak up.
"Being a Nike athlete, you have to stand up for your brand," Biles said.
Six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman, herself a Nassar survivor, has been a strident critic of USA Gymnastics for what she considers to be its continually tone deaf response to herself and other victims of abuse. Shortly after Bono was brought on, she questioned why USA Gymnastics would hire someone who previously worked for Faegre Baker Daniels, a law firm that worked for the organization in 2015 when gymnasts began coming forward with sex-abuse allegations against Nassar. Raisman said the law firm helped cover up those allegations.
Bono has been employed as a principal by Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting in Washington, D.C. since 2013.
Raisman tweeted Tuesday night her objection to Bono was not "personal."
"The stakes are high in our sport right now, (and) it's essential new leadership be disconnected from the influences that allowed these terrible things to happen," Raisman posted.
Bono appeared ready to weather the initial storm, stressing she looked forward to "telling my gymnastics story, my vision for the future of the sport and why I wanted the job."
It never came close to getting that far, leaving USA Gymnastics on the search for its fourth president in the last 18 months. Steve Penny resigned under pressure from the United States Olympic Committee in March, 2017. Penny's replacement, Kerry Perry, took over Dec. 1, 2017 but stepped away in September after USOC president Sarah Hirshland said the organization "is struggling to manage its obligations effectively and it is time to consider making adjustments in the leadership."
USA Gymnastics is facing dozens of civil lawsuits filed by Nassar victims and its long-term viability is uncertain. The board of directors, however, said it is committed to continuing its search for a permanent president.
"We remain steadfast in our efforts to fundamentally transform the organization at all levels to ensure athlete safety and well-being is at the heart of everything we do," the board said in a statement. "We are also committed to making sure that the focus remains on the athletes."
Bono said she wanted to be part of the solution. She 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 looking for.
"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.
The mission ended before it began and USA Gymnastics finds itself leaderless and rudderless once more.
Following is Bono’s resignation statement:
"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," Bono said in a statement.
"My withdrawal comes in the wake of personal attacks that, left undefended, would have made my leading USAG a liability for the organization."
“With respect to Mr. Kaepernick, he nationally exercised his first amendment right to kneel,” she wrote. “I exercised mine: to mark over on my own golf shoes, the logo of the company sponsoring him for ‘believing in something even if it means sacrificing everything’ — while at a tournament for families who have lost a member of the armed services (including my brother-in-law, a Navy SEAL) who literally ‘sacrificed everything.’ 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 didn’t better clarify my feelings. That one tweet has now been made the litmus test of my reputation over almost two decades of public service.”