USOC's Emotional Decision

Today is election day. Don’t worry, you won’t find political opinions here, but if you really want to I’m sure you can scour my personal social media for information about my political preferences.

Today is also the day that the USOC undertook the dramatic decision to begin a process that could decertify USA Gymnastics. There had been sustained pressure for them to do so.

Like any such decision, many of us would love to believe that such a decision was undertaken because of damning facts. Sustained media attention had revealed that USAG had systematically failed their athletes, and the top athletes in the sport have spoken out loudly about that.

But as many of us head to the ballot box, a reminder that however rational we would like to believe we are, our decisions are far more emotional than we would like to believe.

This post is not an indictment of the fact that we make emotional decisions. Rather, it is a suggestion to those who would like more accountability in sports. Emotions rule.

In the sport of swimming the “facts” are arguably far more damning than those in gymnastics that the governing body has failed its membership. But facts do not move the needle as much as the sustained, relentless emotional attention that USA Gymnastics has gotten.

Likewise, there are sports governing bodies that I have only recently learned about- like speed skating, where violations are so egregious that they strain credulity. But because there is almost no attention to these facts, or emotional attention, there is little momentum for change.

It is easy to give in to frustration in these moments. We want to believe that a sustained barrage of facts will win the day. “If only people really knew the truth (!)” we say, but many people do and still choose business as usual.

Will outrage move the needle? Almost always. But we must also advocate for a positive emotional direction for sport. That is why in this space I have both pummeled sport leaders and advocated for a kinder, better way to do sport.

Finally, we cannot lose hope just because dramatic change hasn’t come to our corner of the sporting world. It will seem like change is never going to come until it does, quite dramatically as it looks like the case is now within gymnastics.

Still, even within that sport, there are many hurdles left to overcome. Will the USOC actually decertify? If so, what will the new gymnastics governing body look like? It is not lost on me that the founding principle of USAG appears to have been (as many sporting bodies) to improve competitive results.

I have hope for a future in which the foremost value of these governing bodies is not results, but the well-being and thriving of all the stakeholders who participate. That even if we acknowledge that we are naturally competitive and results-focused, that a focus on other values will actually only help our competitiveness in the long term.