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Special Report: Maggie Haney still working with gymnasts despite suspension

USA Gymnastics has received multiple complaints over the course of months that former U.S. Olympic and national team coach Maggie Haney has continued to work with minor-aged gymnasts despite being suspended earlier this year for repeatedly emotionally and verbally abusing young athletes, the Southern California News Group has learned.

An attorney for victims of Haney’s alleged abuse said she has made complaints to USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, claiming that Haney has violated the terms of her suspension. Correspondence obtained by SCNG also confirms that Mark Busby, USA Gymnastics general counsel, has received complaints claiming that Haney has violated her suspension.

Photographs and a video obtained by SCNG show Haney in July beginning a run with gymnasts in the parking lot of MG Elite, the New Jersey gym that has been her longtime coaching home, as part of a conditioning workout after a training session at the club. The identity of the girls was confirmed by three MG Elite parents.

Parents have also provided SCNG with financial records showing that some MG Elite parents have continued to make payments labeled “tuition,” since Haney’s suspension, to a Venmo account opened and controlled by Haney, according to three parents. One payment was made as recently as this week, according to account records.

“Regarding Ms. Haney’s case, it is critically important that those who have reported misconduct in the past or may report in the future know that their privacy will be respected,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement to SCNG. “Accordingly, to preserve the integrity of the process and the privacy of all participants, Safe Sport reports, investigations, hearings, and arbitrations are confidential. USA Gymnastics, all hearing panelists, and the respondent in the case, are bound by that confidentiality.”

Haney in April was stripped of her coaching privileges and USA Gymnastics membership and “suspended from all contact” with USA Gymnastics athletes and events for eight years following a two-month hearing.  The suspension runs through April 30, 2028.

“Maggie Haney’s complete disregard for USAG sanctions imposed to protect the mental and physical health of children is regrettable on several levels,” said Judie Saunders, an attorney for some of Haney’s alleged victims.

“An authorized USAG panel heard overwhelming evidence of Maggie Haney’s abuse from survivors, gymnasts, eyewitnesses and parents. That hearing panel then found Ms. Haney to be in violation of established rules and bylaws.

“The coach’s actions are symbolic of a larger broken institutional system.”

USA Gymnastics said in a statement Friday that, “Individuals who have been suspended from all contact or deemed permanently ineligible for membership are not allowed to have contact with member athletes or clubs, or attend USA Gymnastics-sanctioned events, unless otherwise noted in their disciplinary documentation. USAG member clubs are also not permitted to allow individuals who are suspended from all contact into their gyms.”

Haney’s supporters maintain the terms of USA Gymnastics’ suspension are no longer applicable because MG Elite has terminated its membership with the organization. USA Gymnastics confirmed that “MG Elite’s membership expired earlier this year and has not been renewed.”

The move to leave USA Gymnastics could allow Haney to circumvent sanctions but would also prevent MG Elite athletes from competing in major competitions. It could also impact the club’s ability to attract gymnasts with U.S. national or Olympic team aspirations and significantly limit gymnasts’ exposure to college recruiters.

Gymnasts must be members of USA Gymnastics in order to compete in any competition sanctioned by the national governing body such as state, regional or national championships. If a gymnast is still a member of USA Gymnastics, Haney cannot contact that gymnast even if she is belongs to a club that Is not registered with USA Gymnastics.

“In order to compete at a USA Gymnastics-sanctioned event, an athlete must be affiliated with a member club and accompanied by a current professional member from that club, except in instances of emergency,” USA Gymnastics communications manager Meredith Yeoman said in an email. “This rule is in place for the safety of all participants, as members of USAG must meet specific eligibility requirements, such as passing an annual background check and maintaining an up-to-date SafeSport certification.”

The three-member hearing panel ruled that Haney “engaged in severe aggressive behavior toward a minor that included teasing and ridiculing that was intended to control and diminish another person.”

The panel also found Haney failed “to provide a safe, positive and healthy environment with a culture of trust and empowerment,” according to a confidential ruling document provided to the Southern California News Group.

Haney is prohibited from contacting any of the gymnasts or their family members who testified against her. She cannot attend USA Gymnastics events other than to accompany or watch her daughter compete. She can apply for reinstatement after eight years. If reinstated she will be placed on two years probation.

“The independent hearing panel – comprised of three members of the gymnastics community, including an attorney, a club owner, and a former national team athlete – found that Ms. Haney violated the USA Gymnastics Code of Ethical Conduct, Safe Sport Policy, and other policies,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement at the time of the suspension.  “As a result, the hearing panel determined that Ms. Haney is suspended from membership, and any coaching of USA Gymnastics athletes or in member clubs, for a period of eight years, effective immediately, followed by a two year probationary period. After the suspension concludes, Ms. Haney may reapply for membership after submitting proof of completing certain specified Safe Sport courses.”

Yeoman said in an email that USA Gymnastics-sanctioned events are defined as “training, competition, travel, lodging and health/medical treatment.”

“A violation of suspension is, itself, a form of misconduct that investigators from the U.S. Center for SafeSport or USA Gymnastics, depending on who has jurisdiction over the case per the SafeSport Code and the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017, may consider. If made aware of a violation of suspension, USAG may also revoke the membership of clubs found to have contributed to the violation.

Haney has initiated an appeal process in which an arbitration panel could uphold, dismiss or alter the USA Gymnastics suspension, according to Russell Prince, Haney’s attorney. A brief was filed on behalf of Haney was filed as part of the arbitration process on August 21, according to a spokeswoman for Haney.

While maintaining Haney is “not coaching,” Lisa Mercurio, a spokeswoman for the coach, said Haney has the continued support of some MG Elite families.

“I know for a fact parents want their coach back,” Mercurio said.

Haney is allowed to drop off and pick up her daughter at MG Elite. Her daughter remains a gymnast at the club.

But 21 time and date stamped photographs and a video obtained by SCNG show Haney arriving at MG Elite on July 24, interacting with gymnasts, and then leading two gymnasts on a conditioning run from the front of the club. One of the photos shows Haney leading the gymnasts on the run past the “MG Elite” sign. The two gymnasts were coached by Haney prior to her suspension.

“That’s not coaching,” Mercurio said. “That’s literally exercising.”

“Maggie is not currently coaching” the two gymnasts in the photographs, Mercurio added.

When asked if running with two gymnasts violated the terms of Haney’s suspension, Mercurio declined to comment. “That’s another fine point,” she said.

Haney set up a Venmo account in 2019 for receiving MG Elite tuition and other transactions, according to three MG Elite parents familiar with the account. Haney also used the account to pay back parents for coffee and send birthday gifts to her niece and daughter, according parents and account records. The account was made private hours after SCNG contacted Prince about activity in it since Haney was suspended.

Twenty-four payments have been made to the account since Haney was suspended April 29, including 12 that clearly state “tuition,” according to account records. Parents of one of the girls photographed running with Haney in July made a tuition payment that same month, according to account records.

“Ms. Haney’s actions of violating the sanction sends a clear message,” Saunders said. “A message that she will not comply, acknowledge wrongdoing or even validate the women harmed by Ms.Haney’s unacceptable coaching practices.

“The good news is that gymnasts no longer have to accept coaches that use abuse, verbal attack and retaliation to win. Young gymnasts and their parents have other options.

“Gymnasts and others should be encouraged by the clear voices of athletes and advocates that are demanding change and a stop to abuse in all forms.”

Haney’s suspension came nearly four years after Olympic champion Laurie Hernandez first filed a complaint against Haney with a top USA Gymnastics official and marked a dramatic fall from grace for one of the international sport’s brightest coaching stars.

Hernandez testified against her longtime coach during the hearing and world champion Riley McCusker, who like Hernandez trained with Haney at MG Elite, wrote a letter critical of the coach to the hearing panel.

The case ignited widespread criticism of USA Gymnastics for its handling of the case and the length of the suspension. The hearing and ruling followed a series of delays by USA Gymnastics including one in which the organization blamed on a misreading of the calendar. Gymnasts, family members and safe sport advocates argued that Haney’s behavior was so egregious that it merited a lifetime ban from the sport.

Interviews with the families of MG Elite gymnasts, confidential USA Gymnastics documents, and previously unreleased texts, emails, letters and other documents related to the investigation detail the extent and impact of Haney’s alleged abuse.

The interviews and documents outline how Haney pulled gymnasts by their hair, swore and screamed at them, body shamed, ridiculed and called them “retarded” if they couldn’t perform a routine or balked at attempting a new skill they were nervous about. Haney threatened to commit suicide if top gymnasts – including McCusker – left MG Elite, according to interviews, documents and testimony provided to USA Gymnastics as well as texts and emails.

Haney pressured gymnasts into removing boot casts or other protective medical devices to train or compete while injured, according to interviews and testimony and documents provided to USA Gymnastics. The issue became such a problem that some parents began asking doctors to place permanent plaster casts on their daughters’ injured limbs so they couldn’t be removed at practice or competitions, according to two parents.

When one gymnast hesitated to do a skill, Haney screamed at her, “Oh, my god, I’m going to take you and push you into this cement wall. Do the (expletive) skill!” according to an MG Elite mother.

Haney pulled gymnasts by their hair off the balance beam or out of foam pits, according to five parents. When a gymnast fell on bars during a photo shoot for a leotard company, an enraged Haney pulled the girl by her hair to her feet, according to the gymnast’s mother.

McCusker’s relationship with Haney began to unravel during the FIG World Cup individual all-around March 23, 2019, in Birmingham, England.

Haney berated McCusker for a poor performance on the vault, according to two people familiar with the investigation. McCusker finished second to Russia’s Aliya Mustafina despite finishing ahead of Mustafina in three of the four events. But McCusker’s vault score of 13.133 was 1.233 less than the Russian’s and was the difference in the final standings.

A Great Britain gymnastics official told a member of the U.S. party if a coach spoke to a British athlete as Haney had to McCusker, they would never be allowed to coach again, according to interviews and documents.

Source: Orange County Register

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