Three days after the closing ceremony for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the United States Olympic Committee announced on Wednesday that its chief executive Scott Blackmun would step down from his post effective immediately.
Though the USOC cited Blackmun’s health as the reason for his departure — USOC’s board chairman told the Washington Post Blackmun will undergo additional treatment for prostate cancer — Blackmun was on the long list of officials facing heavy criticism for his failure to protect dozens of Olympic athletes from sexual abuse at the hands of former USA Gymnastics trainer Larry Nassar. Other officials at USOC, including chairman Larry Probst, defended Blackmun as recently as February 8, the day before the winter games officially began.
“He has served the USOC with distinction,” Probst said of Blackmun during a news conference in Pyeongchang. “We think that he did what he was supposed to do and did the right thing at every turn.”
But he did, at the time, leave the door open for Blackmun’s removal, pending the findings of an independent investigation launched into how the USOC handled the Nassar case. That investigation is expected to take months.
Shortly after Nassar was sentenced in two separate Michigan trials, Blackmun and the USOC released a statement calling for the resignations of the entire board at USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body. And in an open letter to Nassar’s victims, Blackmun apologized for not doing enough to protect them, and for the organization’s decision not to attend any of the sentencing hearings in which abused athletes confronted Nassar in person. “The Olympic family is among those that have failed you,” wrote Blackmun.
To many of the victims though, the USOC’s apologies rang hollow. “I’ve represented the U.S. in two Olympics, and both USAG and the USOC have been quick to capitalize on my success,” said gold medalist Aly Raisman during Nassar’s sentencing hearing. “But did they reach out to me when I came forward? No.”
There is mounting evidence that the USOC was presented with evidence of sexual abuse years before the public first learned about Nassar — and evidence they chose to ignore the warnings. As early as 1999, an official at USA Gymnastics alerted the USOC that the governing bodies of Olympic sports lacked even the most basic sexual abuse prevention measures.
“The USOC can either position itself as a leader in the protection of young athletes or it can wait until it is forced to deal with the problem under much more difficult circumstances,” wrote USA Gymnastics CEO Bob Colarossi in an eerily prescient 1999 letter to officials at the USOC. Among the recipients: Scott Blackmun, who was then the organization’s General Counsel.
The USOC was alerted again in 2015, this time specifically about Larry Nassar. In a phone call between then-USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny and Scott Blackmun, who had assumed the role of CEO in 2010, Penny informed Blackmun that a gymnast had brought forth allegations of sexual abuse by a team trainer, and named Nassar specifically in a subsequent email two months later. Blackmun and the USOC provided no guidance on how to address the allegations, and remained silent as Nassar continued to see patients for another year. After the scope and magnitude of his abuse came into focus, the USOC denied having any knowledge of Nassar until late 2016, when the Indianapolis Star published their seminal investigation.