As news broke of the resignation of U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers called him "a principled and ethical leader."
Blackmun had come under fire in recent weeks for his apparent reluctance to, as the Washington Post
reported, "intervene in a series of sex abuse scandals, most recently the Larry Nassar case that has engulfed USA Gymnastics and prompted three Congressional inquiries."
Mayor Suthers: Sorry to see Blackmun resign.
The news comes in the wake of calls by two senators for Blackmun to resign over the Nassar case, the Post
reported, but USOC board chair Larry Probst said his departure stems from health concerns. Blackmun, 60, recently had surgery for prostate cancer and needs additional treatment, Probst told the Post
The USOC is based in Colorado Springs, which adopted the moniker "Olympic City U.S.A." In an interview on KRCC on Feb. 28, Suthers called the brand unique and among the most valuable in the world.
The sports agency has headquartered in Colorado Springs since it moved here from New York City in 1978. In 2009, the city spent roughly $50 million to revamp a downtown building into a new headquarters for the USOC and upgrade the Olympic Training Center. Following the controversial deal, the developer was indicted
on fraud charges at least partially linked to the deal, and ill will grew between citizens and City Council over what some called an unnecessary give-away.
But Suthers believes the label Olympic City is a sturdy one and gives the city an incomparable distinction.
In a statement issued on Feb. 28 shortly after news broke of Blackmun's resignation, Suthers said:
Scott Blackmun has done an outstanding job as the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee and I am sad to learn of his resignation. I have found Scott to be a principled and ethical leader of the USOC and it has been a pleasure to work with him. The relationship between the City of Colorado Springs and the USOC has never been better and much of the credit for that belongs to Scott.
My staff and I wish Scott the very best as he deals with his health issue and we are genuinely grateful for all he has done for the Olympic movement and for Olympic City USA.
The USOC made Blackmun the secondary topic in a lengthy news release about reforms and initiatives aimed at protecting athletes from abuse. Allegations of various types of ill treatment have hit not only gymnastics but also swimming, taekwondo, speedskating and judo.
The USOC's release:
Today, the United States Olympic Committee announced additional reforms and new initiatives designed to protect athletes from abuse and respond quickly and effectively when issues surface. The USOC also announced that CEO Scott Blackmun is resigning due to ongoing health issues resulting from prostate cancer. Susanne Lyons, a current board member, will serve as acting CEO, overseeing the USOC’s day-to-day operations while the search for a permanent successor is underway.
“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. “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 has served as CEO of the USOC 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,” said Blackmun. “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. She has extensive global and Olympic experience, including 40 years of expertise in general management, marketing, sponsorship, business strategy and revenue generation. Lyons served as the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Visa USA – a member of the IOC’s The Olympic Partner Program – from 2004-07. Prior to this, Lyons held leadership roles for Charles Schwab & Co. and Fidelity Investments.
“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,” said Lyons. “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 reforms and new actions the USOC is announcing today include:
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.”
A factsheet about these initiatives can be found at TeamUSA.org.