June 2, 2022 - 4:52 pm
Tasha Schwikert Moser knew she had a choice.
The former Olympian could continue to work on the outside while attempting to hold USA Gymnastics accountable as it tries to emerge from the rubble of the Larry Nassar scandal. Or she could leap into the void and take her advocacy for the victims of sexual abuse committed by the former national team doctor — a group that includes Schwikert Moser and her sister, Jordan — to the front lines.
It turned out not to be much of a choice at all.
When the legal settlement between the embattled organization and hundreds of plaintiffs mandated the creation of a dedicated seat on the USA Gymnastics board of directors for a Nassar victim, Schwikert Moser found her hand metaphorically thrust in the air almost out of reflex.
It’s the least the 37-year-old mother of three could do if she wants to save a sport she loves dearly, even if it means becoming an overseer for an organization she and her sister sued in 2018 for not taking sexual abuse allegations seriously or maintaining a culture of accountability and transparency.
Schwikert Moser’s four-year term began Wednesday. She enters the position with some serious skepticism that the sport’s national governing body can make the changes she believes are necessary. And she’s aware her decision to join the board will raise eyebrows.
“I know some people would say: ‘You shouldn’t care. The organization has been so horrible to gymnasts in your generation, why should you care?’” Schwikert Moser told The Associated Press. “But someone’s got to care, right?”
Schwikert Moser, who now works for a Dallas-based law firm, feels her experience as an athlete, her legal background and her passion for a sport that carried her to the 2000 Olympics and a pair of NCAA all-around titles have provided her with a skill set that makes her uniquely qualified to keep USA Gymnastics accountable.
“I think I have the tools necessary to make an impact,” she said, adding that her goal is to become “a check and balance on all the decisions made going forward.”
USA Gymnastics has undergone sweeping leadership changes over the last five years, including a restructuring atop the women’s national team program. The old model in which one person served as the program’s high-performance director was blown up this spring. The new paradigm split the position into three equitable positions: a developmental lead, a strategic lead and a technical lead.
Olympic medalists Alicia Sacramone Quinn (strategic lead) and Chellsie Memmel (technical lead) assumed the new roles last week, with Dan Baker taking over as developmental lead.
“To have that position filled by one person, that one person has got to be a unicorn,” Schwikert Moser said. “Given the climate of the sport, that person doesn’t exist. I think it’s better to have a three-person panel, so I think that change from a policy, an outline (from) the position perspective, I think that’s a smart change.”
Still, Schwikert Moser took issue with the decision not to hire Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu for the strategic lead. Moceanu, who raised alarms about abusive coaching practices she experienced at the hands of former national team leaders Bela and Martha Karolyi, has been a staunch advocate for Nassar victims for years.
While Schwikert Moser stressed she had no issue with any of the hires personally, she called the decision to pass on Moceanu a missed opportunity.
“I believe hiring her would have made a huge statement (because) we have someone here who has been so publicly supportive of the survivors,” she said.
Schwikert Moser noted she was not part of the decision-making process, which hints at one of the major issues she sees USA Gymnastics facing as it tries to plot a new course.
“I think the line of communication between the organization and the community has been so poor,” she said. “I just feel like everything has been so secretive or we can’t talk about this or talk about that.”
USA Gymnastics spokesperson Jill Geer said Thursday the organization was “fortunate to have many strong candidates,” adding that USA Gymnastics reached out to Moceanu last week about “potentially discussing ways we might work together to continue to advance the women’s artistic program.”
Schwikert Moser wants USA Gymnastics to make transparency a priority as it tries to re-establish trust within the gymnastics community.
“Let’s be proactive instead of reactive,” she said.
USA Gymnastics board chair Kathryn Carson called having someone with Schwikert’s background a “tremendous addition to our board” and “critically important to ensuring sustained cultural change at USA Gymnastics.”
A change Schwikert Moser is adamant about seeing through. Despite the personal trauma she went through, she remains passionate about the sport that made her a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. She knows what vital roles gyms throughout the country play in the physical, emotional and mental development of tens of thousands of young athletes, from the toddlers in tumbling to those who dream of competing under the Olympic rings.
It’s those athletes she had in mind when she agreed to join the board. She can’t change the past. Neither can USA Gymnastics. The future, however, is another matter.
“I just want to make sure athletes are safe, children are safe, our current and future generation are safe and they have an organization that is doing right by them and the athlete’s interest is the No. 1 priority,” she said.
She remains concerned about coaches who have not changed their philosophy to become more athlete-centric. She said eating disorders produced by coaches who either directly or indirectly body shame gymnasts are “the elephant in the room.”
“If we have coaches who think winning is the only thing that matters and that the well-being of the whole person, if we’re not concerned about that, they need to go,” she said. “You need to get on the train that’s going in the right direction or you’ve got to get off. If that means a lot of coaches leave the sport? I don’t care. We’re not going to keep ruining and destroying the lives of young athletes.”
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