Professor John Hoberman and August Wolf OLY 8/15/18
The U.S. Olympic Committee has a legal “monopoly” on the Olympic Movement and has operated for decades without any real supervision by Congress. The real face of its leadership has recently been on display in the Larry Nassar scandal; the bigger scandal is the USOC itself. The USOC spends less than 10% on its mission, pays an oversized incompetent staff 2-3x the norm, actively covered-up sexual abuse scandals for decades for its commercial benefit, and is incompetent to boot. It then hires, with no input from the athletes it is supposed to serve, a mid-level media executive who is totally unqualified as its “reformer”, and appoints as President a conflicted insider who was urged to resign at a Congressional Hearing. This is a scandal akin to Enron/The Red Cross/Hollywood’s Weinstein sagas. Congress and the administration must act to independently review and reform the USOC.
America’s athletes have been and are systematically abused by the insiders of the USOC and NGB leadership. 90% struggle to make ends meet while they delay planning for post-sport careers. Many compete against materially better financed and supported competition, with all support cylinders firing. To point, an American national class alpine skier has to come up with $30k just to be in the pool to compete for TEAM USA on the World Cup, while the US Ski Association spends over $40mm annually on staff and programs.
More broadly, in recent years we have watched global sports governance degenerate into a series of tawdry scandals. FIFA was revealed to be a criminal enterprise; bribery scandals discredited the leadership of track & field’s international federation; Russia was proven to have rigged the entire drug testing in the 2014 Winter Games; and post-Armstrong professional cycling is still plagued by doping controversies. Indeed, the entire global anti-doping effort is mired in conflicts of interest and endless litigation.
Where is the international organization that can bring order or even decent conduct, to the global sports world? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has no ethical standards, operates without oversight in Switzerland, and is indirectly bankrolled by US media rights payments.
This is the sorry state of the international sports community of which the leadership of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is a part. And that is why it was stunning to learn recently that the USOC has decided that the new CEO who will best represent American interests at home and abroad is PGA marketing head Sarah Hirshland, who excelled at setting up a “golfer handicap information network.” She is hardly the leader needed to take on Putin’s sports apparatchiks and the USOC hardliners.
The urgent need for an ethics and law enforcement leader at the USOC is also demonstrated by its responsibility for identifying and removing domestic threats to the welfare of the athletes for whom the USOC is responsible, especially sexually vulnerable adolescents. The USOC has evolved into a complex organism that develops self- defensive strategies that discourage self-scrutiny and accountability, which is to be expected when leadership has zero “skin in the game."
The USOC’s flaws and scandals include the absence of the ethical oversight that might challenge the medal-winning mania that drives most sports corruption. We have heard the former CEO tell an audience that his only real job was to win as many medals as possible for the USA – period. That is the ethos that empowers successful authority figures like star coaches to abuse their young charges. This is the mindset that eagerly wastes millions on “sports science” and erect a media Potemkin Village in the hope of looking effective. This in turn is the mindset that has condemned global sport to its descent into massive doping and forms of political nastiness that are only getting worse.
On a more mundane level, the USOC is a system that employs large numbers of overpaid, ineffective insiders who feign athlete autonomy by setting up “internal panels” of compliant athletes who will not rock the boat. These are the leaders of a USOC that may be facing bankruptcy. Thanks to the bold actions of the Trustees of Michigan State University, the bar has been set at $1.5mm for a sexual assault victim, and a recent settlement by the Catholic Church of New York and even higher standard of $7.5mm for victims of abuse 30 years ago. The USOC’s court docket calendar and associated bills for retained legal counsel are the only records they are setting, and they are growing: some expect over 1,000 cases to be filed against the USOC.
Today those of us who value sport for something other than the medal count at the Olympic Games have an opportunity to call for real reform of the system. Following the resignations of the entire USOC leadership, let Congress appoint an interim board and an independent panel modeled after the one that successfully reformed the U.S. Military after its sexual abuse scandals in 2010-2013. If 200+ young gymnasts can prevail against the USOC leadership, Congress and America should be able to do the same. America needs an independent review of the laws that governs the USOC and the record of their leadership, and a new start for America’s Team. Let’s make TEAM USA and the Olympic Movement the model of excellence and inspiration it should be to all Americans and the world.
John Hoberman is a Professor at the University of Texas Austin. His work in sports studies encompasses race relations, politics and the Olympics, and performance-enhancing drug use.August Wolf OLY is the Founder of Olympians Rising, and a two-time US National Champion in the Shot-put.
Olympians Rising OLY Leadership GroupKAYLA HARRISON Olympic Gold Medalist Judo CAROLINE LIND Olympic Gold Medalist Rowing BODE MILLER Olympic Medalist Alpine Skiing JIMMY PEDRO Olympic MedalistAUGUST WOLF Olympian and USOC Foundation Trustee
SAFETY, EQUITY, TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY