Under-Fire Scott Blackmun Resigns from USOC Citing Heath Reasons

Feb 6, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; USOC chief executive officer Scott Blackmun addresses the media in a USOC leadership press conference during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Main Press Center-Pushkin Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Scott Blackmun. Photo Courtesy: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of calls for his departure, Scott Blackmun is resigning as CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, citing health problems. Blackmun, 60, was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few months ago and was unable to attend the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

The USOC is conducting an independent review of when Blackmun and other key Olympic leaders learned the details about abuse cases at USA Gymnastics and within USA Swimming and whether they responded appropriately.

Shortly before the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics, USOC chairman Larry Probst said “that no decision on Mr. Blackmun’s future would be made until the completion of an independent investigation,” according to the New York Times, but Blackmun’s resignation is immediate. Probts did  defend Blackmun at that press conference commenting that he had “served the USOC with distinction” and that “we think that he did what he was supposed to do and did the right thing at every turn.”

Shortly before the Olympics, a group called “The Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC” sent a 14-page memo to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce demanding Blackmun’s resignation for negligence in cases of sexual abuse. It’s unclear to what extent the outside pressure to resign, along with his ongoing health issues, contributed to Blackmun’s decision.

Susanne Lyons, a member of the USOC board, will serve as acting CEO.

Read more from the USOC press release:

“Given Scott’s current health situation, we have mutually agreed it is in the best interest of both Scott and the USOC that we identify new leadership so that we can immediately address the urgent initiatives ahead of us,” said USOC Chairman Larry Probst in a news release. “The USOC is at a critical point in its history. The important work that Scott started needs to continue and will require especially vigorous attention in light of Larry Nassar’s decades-long abuse of athletes affiliated with USA Gymnastics. We will be working with key stakeholders to help identify a permanent successor to Scott. In the meantime, I am confident that Susanne is the right person to help us navigate this critical transition period.”

Blackmun served as CEO since 2010. He was the driving force behind many of the improvements the USOC has made to help protect athletes – notably the establishment of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and the development of the SafeSport initiative. Blackmun also led the effort to bring the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games back to the United States, ensured record financial support for Team USA athletes, renegotiated the USOC’s revenue sharing agreement with the International Olympic Committee, and substantially enhanced the USOC’s presence and influence in the global Olympic Movement.

“Serving the USOC and its many stakeholders and working with our board, our professional staff and many others who support the Olympic and Paralympic movements has not only been immensely rewarding, it has been an honor and the highlight of my professional life,” Blackmun said. “I am proud of what we have achieved as a team and am confident that Susanne will help the USOC continue to embody the Olympic spirit and champion Team USA athletes during this transition.”

In January, Lyons was selected as chair of the USOC board’s working group addressing issues the Nassar case has brought to light. Since then, she has been leading the USOC’s efforts to ensure a process that is independent, transparent, sensitive and accessible. Lyons has been serving as an independent director to the USOC board of directors since December 2010.

“While we are eager to review the findings of the independent investigation, the USOC is taking important actions now based on what we already know,” Lyons said. “We are evaluating the USOC’s role and oversight of all the National Governing Bodies, considering potential changes to the Olympic structure and aggressively exploring new ways to enhance athlete safety and help prevent and respond to abuse.”

The USOC also announced significant changes to further protect athletes:

  • Providing new funding and resources for support and counseling for gymnasts impacted by Nassar’s crimes and launching a new resource for athletes from other Olympic and Paralympic sports recovering from similar abuse.
  • Forming an advisory group to bring together survivors, advocates, child psychologists and other medical professionals to guide the USOC on stronger safeguards against abuse throughout the Olympic community, and effective support for victims. This may lead to additional changes to the USOC policies and methods for addressing cultural issues and conflicts of interest that may exist in sports, hampering prevention of abuse.
  • Launching a review of the USOC and NGB governance structure as defined by the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, including seeking input from safe sport advocacy groups, the NGB Council, the Athletes’ Advisory Council, current athletes and policymakers to consider clarifications and changes to this structure. As the leader of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community, the USOC must ensure that its governance structure unequivocally provides the ability to oversee and act when necessary to protect athletes.
  • Revisiting USOC SafeSport procedures to determine what measures are necessary to ensure allegations of abuse are reported to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, in addition to law enforcement, and that necessary follow-ups occur. This also would enable NGBs and the USOC to be more aware of problems as they arise, spot trends, and know where more oversight and engagement are necessary.
  • Effectively doubling USOC’s funding of the Center for SafeSport to enable it to hire more investigators and staff, improve the speedy resolution of cases, enhance ongoing communication for victims and their families, provide age-appropriate training on recognizing and helping to prevent abuse, and offer better and more accessible resources online.
  • Ensuring that athletes have a stronger voice within the USOC. In addition to the AAC already in place, the USOC will seek input on its decision making from currently competing athletes and athletes who have competed in the past.
  • Working with USAG to address its governance issues, implement a culture change, and act on the results of the independent investigation once it is complete.

“The goal of our organization is to protect and support each and every athlete,” said Whitney Ping, an athlete representative on the USOC board. “We are absolutely committed to our ongoing and increased efforts to ensure current and future athletes can train and perform in an environment where they feel safe and supported. As the independent investigation continues, we will continue to look for ways to strengthen them even further.”