United States Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun unexpectedly resigned on Wednesday.
Blackmun’s “ongoing health issues resulting from prostate cancer” were cited as the reason for his immediate resignation, the USOC said in a statement. His departure also comes as the USOC faces public backlash and three congressional inquiries into the organization’s handling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case and similar abuse allegations with other sports under the USOC umbrella.
“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,” USOC chairman Larry Probst said in a statement.
“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.”
USOC board member Susanne Lyons will serve as interim CEO as a search begins for a permanent replacement. Blackmun had been the CEO since 2010.
“Scott Blackmun’s resignation is long overdue,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “The U.S. Olympic Committee must now bring on new leadership determined to deliver answers and accountability regarding how Larry Nassar was able to freely abuse young girls for decades, as well as answers to questions about abuse in other Olympic programs.”
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a former Olympic gold medalist and CEO of the organization Champion Women, was among those who have pushed for Blackmun to step down. In a Feb. 7 letter to House Committee on Energy and Commerce that had the backing of dozens of former Team USA athletes, Hogshead-Makar wrote Blackmun “does not deserve to lead our Olympic Team.”
“I think he saw the writing on the wall,” Hogshead-Makar told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m glad this happened sooner rather than later. He was not an innocent bystander.”
Blackmun, 60, announced in January he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and he’d miss the opening ceremony for the Pyeongchang Games, which concluded Sunday as Team USA hauled in a fewer-than-projected 23 medals. Blackmun, however, was expected to stay on the job as he underwent treatment.
He received a vote of confidence from USOC Chairman of the Board Larry Probst on Feb. 9.
“Scott has served the USOC with distinction since 2010,” Probst said. “We believe he did the right thing at the right time. The board fully sports Scott and we will wait to see the results of the Ropes & Gray investigation before making any further decisions or taking any further action.”
Boston-based law firm Ropes & Gray to conduct investigation to examine how USOC officials handled the initial abuse allegations made against Nassar, a longtime USA Gymnastics national team doctor. More than 260 girls and women have come forward to alleged they were abused by Nassar, who was also a team doctor at Michigan State.
Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges in December. He’s also been sentenced in two Michigan courts to a combined 80-300 years in prison over the last two months.
Three Congressional investigations have been lunched in recent weeks in the wake of Nassar’s alleged abuse that spanned nearly two decades.
The USOC threatened in January to de-certify USA Gymnastics as the national governing body for the sport should, including the resignations of each member of the organization’s board. All 21 members tendered their resignations.
USA Swimming fired two high-ranking officials last week over its handling of an abuse investigation, a move that came days after The Orange County Registerreported hundreds of swimmers may have been abused or harassed by coaches. USA Taekwondo and U.S. Speedskating also were subject to complaints that they didn’t do enough to protect athletes.
The USOC also announced several reforms when it announced Blackmun’s resignation, including:
- Counseling and other resources for Olympic and Paralympic athletes recovering from abuse.
- An advisory board comprised of abuse survivors, psychologists and advocates to examine and suggest changes to “cultural issues and conflicts of interest that may exist in sports.” The USOC will also review the existing structure that exists between the USOC and the sports it oversees.
- Doubling the funding of U.S. Center for SafeSport, the independent organization tasked at ensuring Olympic sports in the U.S. are free from abuse. President Trump signed the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act into law on Feb. 14 that requires organizations under the USOC to report instances of abuse to to SafeSport. The USOC perviously provided $1 million per year to SafeSport.
“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, the USOC’s interim CEO, said in a statement. “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.”