The U.S. Olympic Committee has chosen a female golf executive to take the helm at a time when the national organization and the amateur sports under its umbrella are reeling from sexual abuse scandals.
Sarah Hirshland was named as the USOC’s chief executive Thursday, filling a void left by Scott Blackmun, who resigned earlier this year, saying he needed to focus on treatment for prostate cancer.
“The USOC is at a critical time in its history and requires an energetic, creative and inspiring leader,” USOC Chairman Larry Probst said, adding that the organization had sought someone “capable of building on past success while making sure that the athletes we serve are protected.”
With a background centered mainly on business and marketing, Hirshland currently serves as chief commercial officer for the U.S. Golf Assn. Before that, she worked for the Los Angeles agency owned by sports entrepreneur Casey Wasserman.
“As a female leader in the world of sports, I understand the importance of creating cultural change,” she said in reference to the abuse scandals. “And I understand what it takes to get there.”
The Colorado native, who called it “premature” to offer details of such change, faces additional challenges in her new job.
The USOC anticipates revising the way it interacts with national governing bodies in each sport. The organization must also work with Southern California organizers to prepare for the Summer Olympics coming to Los Angeles in 2028.
While the International Olympic Committee continues to review a proposed joint marketing agreement with LA 2028, the USOC expects to move some of its marketing executives here next month.
Probst predicted Hirshland will be a good fit with her former boss, Wasserman, who heads the L.A. organizing committee.
“Casey is incredibly excited about Sarah being hired,” Probst said.
It was eight years ago that a struggling USOC hired Blackmun to right the ship and improve relations with the international community.
Though he received high marks in those areas, Blackmun and the USOC came under fire for a perceived lack of action in response to the molestation of young athletes in numerous sports and, in particular, to the Larry Nassar scandal.
Nassar — a former team doctor for Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic team — is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty in multiple cases involving sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.
Hundreds of women, including Olympic gymnastics stars such as Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, have come forward to say Nassar molested them under the guise of providing medical treatment.
In recent months, the USOC has instituted significant policy changes regarding athlete safety. Susanne Lyons, a USOC board member who served as acting leader after Blackmun, said the organization also attempted to include Nassar victims in the executive search process.
“Because of the some of the pending litigation,” she said, “attorneys have prevented the USOC from speaking to them.”
Hirshland’s hiring ends a months-long search. Immediately, she will need to deal with those lawsuits while forging relationships with congressional leaders who have confronted the USOC, sometimes angrily, in hearings on Capitol Hill.
The organization has commissioned an independent investigation related to the scandals, the results of which are expected this fall. In the meantime, Hirshland said she will assume her new role by the end of August.