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For years now, Simone Biles has made clear her understandable disdain and distrust of USA Gymnastics. She has called for the organization to be independently investigated after former team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused her and hundreds of other gymnasts.
“I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any individual to experience the horror,” Biles said last week at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.
Biles’ voice, buoyed by her 32 Olympic and World Championship medals, is significant. It is still just a voice. Until someone else acts on it, there is only so much she can do.
At least it was until she received a call a couple years ago from Valorie Kondos Field, the former professional ballerina and choreographer turned legendary UCLA gymnastics coach. Kondos Field had an idea on how to modernize the traditional post-Olympics exhibition tour of gymnastics stars — that would include empowerment and life skills for the mostly young, female audience. She hoped Biles would want to partner.
Biles did, under one condition.
“Simone said, ‘I’ll do it if USA Gymnastics isn’t involved,' ” Kondos Field told Yahoo Sports.
Money shouldn’t talk. It shouldn’t matter. That’s particularly true for a scandal that involves such horrific crimes. Yet in reality, there may be no better retribution that Simone Biles and other gymnasts can have on USAG than to hit it financially.
Tuesday in Tucson, Arizona, the “Gold Over America Tour starring Simone Biles” kicks off its 35-city national run. It’s abbreviation “GOAT” is a nod to Biles' nickname — “Greatest Of All-Time.”
It will feature Biles, plus Olympians Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles, MyKayla Skinner, Laurie Hernandez, as well as UCLA star Katelyn Ohashi and others. Each will be paid to participate, as in the past.
The tour concept isn’t new. USA Gymnastics has run and profited off them for years. It’s the ownership that’s different now — a partnership of Biles and two production and touring companies. They control all ticket, merchandise and sponsorship revenue. USAG is not involved and won’t attempt to compete.
“This is Simone taking control,” said Kondos Field, who once recruited Biles to UCLA before the gymnast turned professional. “She wanted nothing to do with USA Gymnastics. That was her No. 1 priority.”
USA Gymnastics declared bankruptcy in 2018. Biles is among a slew of women who sued the organization that agreed last month to pay $425 million to Nassar’s victims. A bankruptcy court and insurance providers still must approve the settlement.
For Biles, this is also a chance to finally be free of USAG. Due to international rules, she was forced to continue with an organization she blamed for her assaults — a lingering type of abuse in its own right.
Biles has said she was a repeated victim of Nassar during national team training camps staged at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas, which was owned by former USA team coordinators Marta and Bela Karolyi.
Nassar is serving an effective life sentence. The Karolyis are retired. Two former prominent coaches recently committed suicide rather than face their own legal issues. Perhaps every last employee of USAG 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's more to be done.
The 24-year-old has repeatedly called for that full independent investigation, which USAG has not embarked on. She notes that Nassar was on the committees that wrote safety protocols that still exist, potentially leaving young athletes at risk.
She has never hesitated to discuss the issue, even during major championships, despite the emotional and mental toll she says it takes on her.
“To be clear,” Biles said last week, “I blame Larry Nassar. I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse. The scars of this horrific abuse continue.”
Her feelings on 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 shot back.
“How about you amaze me and do the right thing … have an independent investigation,” Biles wrote.
This tour is a way to impact in its pocket an organization she considers rotten to the core. If words don’t matter, maybe this will.
For Biles, expressing herself through business partnerships isn’t new. Last year she left Nike to endorse Athleta, in part because she believed the much smaller apparel company better reflected her values and better supported female athletes.
“Simone is an amazing athlete and person,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement when the tour was first announced. “Having her own tour will give her a stage to showcase her skills and talent, as well as those of other women.” It didn’t respond to requests for additional comment.
The Gold Across America Tour strives to be different than past ones. “[I wanted] to help create a show that celebrates the pure joy of performing,” Biles said. As such, it champions the fun of gymnastics, not merely the accomplishments of the gymnasts.
“We created not just a gymnastics show, but an entertainment show,” Kondos Field said. “It’s going to be a big party. Fun gymnastics, lots of dancing, a massive LED screen and fabulous lighting. It’s uplifting.”
There will be no lack of female empowerment messaging, either. It will include a focus on the issues many young people, especially girls, go through.
“Things like social media, how to be your best self and how to be true to yourself,” Kondos Field said.
It will be the kind of show that Simone Biles wants, one that will deliver a message of hope, of confidence and of seizing control.
USA Gymnastics, per the request of its biggest star ever, will be nowhere to be found.