The chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, who missed the recent 2018 Winter Olympics while battling prostate cancer, announced his resignation on Wednesday.
Scott Blackmun, 60, laid the groundwork for bringing the Summer Games back to Los Angeles in 2028 but had also come under fire for his organization’s perceived lack of action in regard to sexual abuse scandals involving hundreds of young athletes.
“Scott now has more information about his treatment program going forward,” USOC Chairman Larry Probst said in a telephone interview. “He realized and the board realized that we need a 24/7 leader … to help us navigate these challenging times.”
It was earlier this year that Larry Nassar, a former sports doctor with USA Gymnastics, Michigan State and the U.S. Olympic team, was sentenced in separate molestation trials that brought forth accusers including star gymnasts such as Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman.
The entire board of USA Gymnastics stepped down amid evidence that Nassar’s crimes had gone unaddressed for years. Some critics called for Blackmun to resign, though the USOC board of directors continued to voice support for him.
“This whole Nassar tragedy should be a wake-up call for all of us,” said Susanne Lyons, a board member who will serve as acting chief executive until a successor is named.
In another brewing scandal, two members of the USA Swimming board resigned last week after news reports of widespread sexual abuse in their sport.
“Moving forward, the culture that allowed sexual abuse to fester and thrive under Blackmun must be destroyed,” said Robert Allard, an attorney who has represented young swimmers in molestation cases. “We will not rest until all of those that have been part of the childhood sexual abuse problem for decades are removed from the USOC and its national governing bodies.”
Lyons said USA Swimming has made significant changes in the years since many of the alleged incidents. Still, a USOC news release announcing Blackmun’s departure included a list of new reforms and initiatives for protecting athletes.
The organization pledged to further review its governance structure and relationship with the national governing bodies that oversee each sport. The latter might require a change in the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, federal legislation that protects the autonomy of those national bodies.
The USOC has also earmarked $1.3 million for support of Nassar’s victims and an additional $1.5 million to double the funding for its U.S. Center for SafeSport.
More changes might be instituted when independent investigators, commissioned by the USOC, release their findings on — among other things — when USOC staff became aware of allegations against Nassar and whether the organization could have done something sooner.
“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.
Because of his recent cancer diagnosis, Blackmun did not accompany the American team to the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, this month.
During his eight years leading the USOC, he focused on improving the U.S.’ standing within the Olympic movement, an effort that included renegotiating a revenue-sharing agreement with the International Olympic Committee.
That work was seen as helping L.A. get the 2028 Games after New York and Chicago had fallen short in previous bids.
“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,” Blackmun said.