The painful procession of young women and girls was nothing the world of international sports had ever seen.
American gymnasts normally arrive dutifully on our television sets every Olympic year, evincing power and grace, waving Old Glory while offering smiles that told us all was right with our world.
But last month they were not in London or Athens or Rio de Janeiro, but instead in a courtroom in Lansing, Mich. Their tales of horror at the hands of a doctor – and the failure of the adults who were supposed to protect them – were on dispiriting display.
Among those in that Lansing court room was University of New Mexico graduate Kerry Perry, the woman charged with restoring the dignity of USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport.
The athletes’ testimony came last month during the sentencing portion of the first trial of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, who was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for 10 sexual assault counts. More than 150 women and girls, including six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman, testified against him over seven days.
“I attended these proceedings to listen to the courageous women as they faced a despicable predator and explained in significant and painful detail the impact he had on each of their lives,” Perry said in a news release. “Their powerful voices leave an indelible imprint on me and will impact my decisions as president and CEO every day. I am profoundly saddened that a single woman was hurt.”
Perry, who declined invitations to be interviewed, assumed the duties as USA Gymnastics president on Dec. 1, and seemingly every day since has brought new revelations of abuse.
Shortly after meeting Perry, Morinari Watanabe, president of the International Gymnastics Federation told insidethegames.biz that he respected “the courage” it took for her to become president.
Courage aside, Perry has no gymnastics experience. Marketing is her game.
Her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNM are in communications, marketing and international management. She had a stint as a professor for UNM’s Robert O. Anderson School of Management between 1994 and 2006.
But she has shown an enterprising side. In 2006, she started her own Albuquerque-based company, KP Sports. Its stated mission was to enhance market value and revenues for collegiate athletic programs and conferences.
It fared so well that in 2015, it merged with Learfield Communications, a Texas-based media enterprise. Perry, a mother of two who is married to former Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, was serving as Learfield’s vice president of business development when USAG came calling.
“We wanted someone that could bring increased transparency and leadership and team building skills to the organization to really try and take the organization, from the grass roots all the way to the board, take it forward and rebuild the trust in the entire company,” David Benck, head of the search committee that hired her, told ESPN.
She will need all her skills to cope.
Last week, another 57 athletes testified in another Nassar trial in Eaton County, Mich.
The U.S. Congress has become involved. The U.S. Olympic Committee threatened to decertify USAG if it didn’t dismiss its board, which it did, with Perry’s blessing.
McKayla Maroney, a gold medalist for the U.S. in 2012, Gabby Douglas, a multiple Olympic gold medalist, and Simone Biles, who won four golds at the Rio games, have expressed concerns about the USAG and its response to the scandal.
Last week, Perry met with Biles in Houston, where the gymnast is preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I have not heard from the USOC, but the new president of USA Gymnastics did fly down and introduce herself to me, but not in regards to the whole entire situation,” Biles told the Associated Press.
Perry, in her introductory news release, said she plans many such trips, “to listen, educate and support our athletes, club owners, parents and members to build an empowered organization together.”
Gymnast Rachael Denhollander was the last to testify in Nassar’s Lansing trial.
“Women and girls banded together to fight for themselves, because no one else would do it,” Denhollander said.
The promise of Kerry Perry is that she will blend her voice in the fight.
UpFront is a regular Journal news and opinion column. Comment directly to assistant city editor Ed Johnson at email@example.com.