Simone Biles claps back at new USA Gymnastics leader over Nike tweet

Mary Bono draws ire for comment

By ELIOTT C. MCLAUGHLIN, CNN
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

(CNN) - Mary Bono had been at the helm of USA Gymnastics for only a day when she drew the ire of the sport's brightest star.

The former congresswoman from California was appointed as interim president and CEO of the sport's beleaguered governing body on Friday and was touted for her leadership, communication and ability to "coalesce people with differing views," according to a USA Gymnastics news release.

Those qualities may have eluded her in September when she took to Twitter to fire off a reaction to Nike promoting former NFL quarterback and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick, who hasn't played since 2016 after angering some fans by kneeling during the pregame national anthem to protest racism and social injustice.

In a photo, Bono used a black marker to blot out the Nike swoosh on a pair of golf shoes, following the lead of angry Nike owners who burned and otherwise destroyed their Nike goods after Kaepernick appeared in a major ad campaign last month.

"Playing in a charity golf tournament raising money for our Special Forces operators and their families. Unfortunately had these shoes in my bag. Luckily I had a marker in my bag too...." she wrote in the tweet that surfaced Saturday.

Forget Olympian McKayla Maroney; Simone Biles is not impressed.

Turns out, Biles collects some pretty heavy checks from -- wait for it -- a Beaverton, Oregon, athletic wear giant known as Nike. Whoops.

Biles is also the face of the team, which will compete in the World Championships in Qatar this month. She'll arrive in Doha with all the swagger one might expect from a roundly beloved 21-year-old who boasts four Olympic gold medals and 10 World Championship golds in artistic gymnastics. She's basically bulletproof.

Bono deleted the tweet, but not before Biles let the former Republican lawmaker know that bashing Nike didn't seem like the brightest move.

Quoting Bono's tweet, Biles replied: "*mouth drop* don't worry, it's not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything."

Later Saturday, Bono acknowledged that she ghosted the tweet, saying that she wanted to turn the focus to what she plans to accomplish as USA Gymnastics' leader.

"I regret the post and respect everyone's views & fundamental right to express them. This doesn't reflect how I will approach my position @USAGym I will do everything I can to help build, w/ the community, an open, safe & positive environment," she said in another tweet.

"I look forward to telling my gymnastics story, my vision for the future of the sport and why I wanted the job," said another.

USA Gymnastics' board of directors said that in reviewing Bono's background, it missed the Nike tweet -- "an oversight on our part" -- and while board members are disappointed in the post, they're standing by her.

"As members of the Olympic movement, USA Gymnastics supports everyone's right to freedom of expression, and we're committed to an inclusive, safe and positive culture for our sport," the board's statement said.

Following the sentencing of former team doctor Larry Nassar, after hundreds of women and girls said he sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment, USA Gymnastics president and CEO Kerry Perry resigned last month following a series of tone-deaf responses to the scandal.

She had been in the job only nine months. Attorney John Manly, who represents 180 gymnasts, said Perry "continued the same flawed policies that led to the Nassar scandal, placing the reputation of coaches and staff above the safety of athletes and denying all legal responsibilities for the two-decade-long cover-up of Nassar's crimes."

Her resignation followed several other high-profile departures, including those of the team's elite development coordinator, head of the women's program and coordinator for the women's national team.

In a letter to USA Gymnastics' 200,000 members, board chairwoman Karen Golz promised the board would take steps to support a safe environment "where every athlete can grow, learn life lessons, have fun and succeed."

On Friday, Golz said Bono, a former gymnast herself, was just the woman to move the team forward.

"Mary is known to be an outstanding communicator who can coalesce people with differing views and perspectives," Golz said in a statement announcing Bono's appointment.

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