An arbitrator has reduced USA Gymnastics suspension of former U.S. Olympic and national team coach Maggie Haney for physical, verbal and emotional abuse from eight to five years.

A USA Gymnastics hearing panel in May, after several weeks of testimony over the course of two months, found Haney, coach of Olympic champion Laurie Hernandez and world champion Riley McCusker, “engaged in severe aggressive behavior toward a minor that included teasing and ridiculing that was intended to control and diminish another person.”

In handing down one of the longest suspensions for conduct not involving sexual abuse or harassment, the hearing panel also found Haney, 42, failed “to provide a safe, positive and healthy environment with a culture of trust and empowerment.”

But in reducing the suspension, the arbitrator found that some of the testimony from four gymnast against Haney should not have been allowed.

The arbitrator’s decision does not involve testimony by Hernandez against Haney or a written statement filed by McCusker that was also critical of her former coach. Hernandez and McCusker and the other gymnasts who filed complaints with USA Gymnastics were coached by Haney at MG Elite in New Jersey, not far from New York City.

‘It upsets me greatly to see what’s happening in the sport of gymnastics, and that so many girls around the world have reported allegations of abuse, but this never happened in my program,”  Haney said in a statement. “I’ve been unfairly targeted by USAG and am now considering all my legal options.”

USA Gymnastics could attempt to re-submit the gymnasts’ testimony, or let the arbitration ruling stand.

“We believe it is critical to ensure that the experiences of all involved athletes in the Maggie Haney case are fully considered as part of the ultimate resolution of the case,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement. “We are in the process of reviewing the arbitrator’s decision and determining the right procedural next steps to ensure that they are.”

Interviews and previously undisclosed confidential documents obtained by the Southern California News Group in an investigation published in May outlined how Haney pulled gymnasts by their hair, swore and screamed at them, body shamed, ridiculed and called them “retarded” if they couldn’t perform a routine or balked at attempting a new skill they were nervous about. Haney threatened to commit suicide if top gymnasts – including McCusker – left MG Elite, according to interviews, documents and testimony provided to USA Gymnastics as well as texts and emails.

Haney has also been named in a series of civil lawsuits filed in New Jersey by the families of former MG Elite gymnasts who allege they were physically, verbally and emotionally abused, body shamed and pressured to compete and train while injured by the coach.

Victoria Levine, Haney’s assistant coach at MG Elite, was placed on interim suspension by USA Gymnastics in March and was prohibited from having any unsupervised contact with minor-age athletes while the organization investigates allegations of verbal and emotional abuse against her. Levine’s attorney said she denies any wrongdoing.

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By Richard Moran

Richard Moran loves to write about sports with the Golden State Online. Before that, he worked as a senior writer at ESPN. Richard grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2004, after which he worked as an editor for five years.

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