Maggie Haney, gymnastics coach and owner of MG Elite Gymnastics in New Jersey, has been suspended from coaching in the sport for eight years following a USA Gymnastics investigation into training conditions. Haney, who coached Olympic silver medalist Laurie Hernandez and rising star Riley McCusker, has been accused by six different families of verbal and emotional abuse, along with forcing gymnasts to train through injuries, according to a report by the New York Times. (According to the New York Post, Hernandez was among those who testified against Haney during USA Gymnastics’ investigation into the accusations.) After Haney’s eight-year suspension, she will be placed on two years probation, overseen by the notoriously ineffective SafeSport, before she’ll be allowed to reapply for membership with USA Gymnastics.
Athletes coached by Haney say that her methods were extreme, even in the strict world of gymnastics. She “screamed, threatened, bullied, and harassed gymnasts,” according to the Orange County Register. Athletes also say Haney forced them to remove casts so they could continue training while injured. While screaming is typical for most coaches in any sport, USA Gymnastics clearly lays out the differences between “tough coaching” and “emotional misconduct” on its own website. Threats, bullying, and harassment are considered abusive measures, used to silence or “groom” athletes. This distinction may come as a surprise to older gymnasts, who have been living through verbal abuse from coaches for years.
Haney, however, is just a single player in a culture that has permeated under USA Gymnastics’ watch, the same watch that failed to protect athletes from Larry Nassar—which perhaps explains why it took so long for the investigation’s results. Karen Goeller, another gymnastics coach based in New Jersey, told the New York Times she’d submitted a formal complaint against Haney last May after six families came to her to “separately describe mistreatment.” Haney’s disciplinary hearing didn’t begin until February of this year and until that time she was allowed to continue working with athletes some of whom were minors.
And even Haney’s eight-year suspension isn’t as strict as it might appear: the suspension only applies to USA Gymnastics’ athletes and its partner gyms. Haney can still coach overseas or in any gymnastics program not affiliated with USA Gymnastics. If she wanted to, she could go out right now and find an amateur gymnast to train. Still, Haney is unhappy with the outcome. “The process is completely heavy-handed,” Haney’s lawyer told the New York Times. “I would anticipate an arbitration.” Perhaps, Haney’s lawyer missed the part of the hearing where she was accused of having athletes remove casts and continue to train through unhealed injury.
It remains to be seen if any of the families will pursue civil or criminal charges. An assistant coach at Haney’s gym was included in the hearing and is now suspended from having any “unsupervised contact with minors.” The outcome is another reminder of how much work is left to do within an organization that claims to prioritize “a safe, positive and encouraging environment” for young athletes, most of whom are women.