“I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympian or any other individual to go through the horror,” Biles said last week at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.
Biles’ voice, carried by his 32 Olympic and world championship medals, is significant. It is still only a voice. Until someone else takes action, there’s not much she can do.
At least that was until she got a call a few years ago from Valorie Kondos Field, the former professional ballerina and choreographer to legendary UCLA gymnastics coach. Kondos Field had an idea on how to modernize the traditional post-Olympic gymnastics stars exhibition tour – which would include empowerment and life skills for the predominantly young and female audience. She hoped Biles would want to team up.
Biles did, on one condition.
“Simone said, ‘I will if USA Gymnastics isn’t involved,’” Kondos Field told Yahoo Sports.
Money must not speak. It shouldn’t matter. This is especially true for a scandal involving such horrific crimes. Yet in reality there may be no better reward that Simone Biles and other gymnasts can have on USAG than to hit it financially.
Tuesday in Tucson, Arizona, the “Gold Over America Tour with Simone Biles” kicks off its national race in 35 cities. Its abbreviation “GOAT” is a nod to Biles’ nickname – “The greatest of all time”.
It will star Biles, along with Olympians Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles, MyKayla Skinner, Laurie Hernandez, as well as UCLA star Katelyn Ohashi and others. Everyone will be paid to participate, as in the past.
The concept of a visit is not new. USA Gymnastics has exploited and benefited from them for years. It’s the ownership that’s different now – a partnership between Biles and two production and touring companies. They control all revenue from tickets, merchandise and sponsorships. The USAG is not involved and will not attempt to compete.
“It’s Simone who takes control,” said Kondos Field, who previously recruited Biles from UCLA before the gymnast turned pro. “She didn’t want anything to do with USA Gymnastics. It was his # 1 priority.
USA Gymnastics declared bankruptcy in 2018. Biles is among many women who sued the organization that agreed to pay Nassar victims $ 425 million last month. A bankruptcy and insurer court have yet to approve the settlement.
For Biles, it is also a chance to finally free himself from the USAG. Due to international rules, she was forced to continue with an organization she blamed for its assaults – a persistent type of abuse in its own right.
Biles said she was repeatedly victimized by Nassar during national team training camps held at Karolyi Ranch in Texas, which was owned by former US team coordinators Marta and Bela Karolyi.
Nassar is serving a life sentence. The Karolyi are retired. Two prominent former coaches recently committed suicide rather than face their own legal issues. Perhaps every last USAG employee at the time has been replaced – and former CEO Steve Penny is awaiting trial for allegedly removing Nassar-related documents from the Karolyi ranch.
Biles and others say there is more to do.
The 24-year-old has repeatedly called for this full independent investigation, which the USAG has not launched. She notes that Nassar was one of the committees that drafted the safety protocols that still exist, potentially leaving young athletes at risk.
She has never shied away from raising the issue, even at major championships, despite the emotional and mental burden she says it places on her.
“To be clear,” Biles said last week, “I blame Larry Nassar. I also blame a whole system that allowed and perpetrated its abuses. The scars of this horrific abuse continue. “
His feelings about USA Gymnastics rarely waver. Last March, when the organization wished her a happy birthday on Twitter – noting that “you will only continue to amaze us” – she hit back.
“How about amaze me and do the right thing… have an independent investigation,” Biles wrote.
This tour is a way to impact in her pocket an organization that she considers rotten to the bone. If words don’t matter, maybe they will.
For Biles, expressing himself through business partnerships is nothing new. Last year, she left Nike to support Athleta, in part because she believed the smaller clothing company better reflected her values and better supported female athletes.
“Simone is an amazing athlete and person,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement upon announcing the tour. “Having her own tour will give her a stage to showcase her skills and talent, as well as those of other women. He did not respond to requests for further comment.
The Gold Across America Tour strives to be different from previous ones. ” [I wanted] to help create a show that celebrates the sheer joy of performing, ”Biles said. As such, he champions the enjoyment of gymnastics, not just the achievements of gymnasts.
“We created not only a gymnastics show, but an entertainment show,” said Kondos Field. “It’s going to be a big party. Fun gymnastics, lots of dancing, a massive LED screen and fabulous lighting. It is edifying.
Messages on women’s empowerment will not be missing either. It will focus on the issues that many young people, especially girls, face.
“Things like social media, how to be your best and be true to yourself,” Kondos Field said.
It will be the kind of show Simone Biles wants, one that delivers a message of hope, confidence and take control.
USA Gymnastics, at the behest of its greatest star of all time, will be nowhere to be found.