At a critical time in the Olympic movement, the U.S. Olympic Committee named Sarah Hirshland, chief commericial officer of the United States Golf Association, as its CEO on Thursday.
Hirshland replaces acting CEO Susanne Lyons and becomes the 12th CEO of the USOC, which has faced criticism from athletes for its role in handling sexual abuse scandals that have engulfed USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming, USA Taekwondo and U.S. Speedskating.
“The USOC is at a critical time in its history and requires an energetic, creative and inspiring leader who is capable of building on past success while making sure that the athletes we serve are protected, supported and empowered in every possible way,” said USOC Chairman Larry Probst in a statement. “I’m thrilled that Sarah has accepted the position and thankful to the diverse slate of candidates who participated in our process to hire the very best person for this important responsibility.”
Hirshland takes over the organization not only as it seeks to address a sexual abuse crisis in the U.S. Olympic movement, but as it looks to hosting future Olympics. Los Angeles has secured the Games in 2028, and the USOC is expected to put forward a Winter Olympics bid in the coming years.
Hirshland comes to the USOC after nearly seven years at the United States Golf Association, most recently as its chief commercial officer. Before that, she worked for Wasserman Media Group, which is now known as Wasserman.
CEO Casey Wasserman is the chairman of LA 2028.
Lyons had served in the interim since Scott Blackmun, citing health concerns, stepped down in February shortly after the Pyeongchang Olympics. He did not attend those Games as he was being treated for prostate cancer.
Earlier that month, Probst had defended Blackmun as the USOC faced increasing criticism for its role in handling sexual abuse complaints and calls for Blackmun to resign.
“Scott has served the USOC with distinction since 2010,” Probst said at the USOC press conference to open the Olympics on Feb. 9. “We believe he did the right thing at the right time.
In January, the USOC hired Boston-based law firm Ropes & Gray to investigate how it and USA Gymnastics handled complaints they received about Larry Nassar, a longtime doctor for the national governing body.
Nassar was a physician at Michigan State for decades. More than 300 women and girls have come forward to allege they were abused by Nassar, including Olympic champions Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney.
Nassar, 54, is serving a 60-year federal sentence for child pornography charges. He was convicted of 10 counts of sexual assault in Michigan and faces a minimum of 40 years in prison after his federal sentence is over.
Prosecutors in Texas last month filed six counts of sexual assault of a child, a second-degree felony.
Then-USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny notified Blackmun of the NGB’s concerns about the doctor in the summer of 2015 and that it would be reporting him to law enforcement, Blackmun said in testimony he submitted to Congress last month.
How USA Gymnastics, the USOC and the broader U.S. Olympic movement have addressed reports of sexual abuse has been the subject of three Congressional hearings since Blackmun resigned.
“I am deeply sorry for those who were harmed and horrified that this happened on my watch,” Blackmun wrote to the Senate Commerce Committee in June. “The suffering and brave testimony of the victims and their families will be a painful memory for the rest of my days. Like millions of others, I applaud the courage of the athletes who have come forward. I believe the USOC is responsible for leading the efforts of our (NGBs) to protect their athletes from abuse, efforts which failed in this case. I am profoundly sorry for this failure.”
In May, Lyons testified before a House subcommittee that the organization is examining its relationships with the NGBs and what it requires of those organizations. The governing bodies for each sport effectively operate as independent non-profits but must meet requirements set by the USOC to be certified as the Olympic federation for the sport in the United States.
In recent years, those requirements have expanded to include minimum safe sport standards. In 2017, the USOC required that NGBs change their bylaws to allow them to use the U.S. Center for SafeSport to handle reports of sexual misconduct.
Blackmun’s tenure at the USOC came as it looked for a way to bring the Olympics back to the United States for the first time since 2002. Bids from New York (2012) and Chicago (2016) both failed before Blackmun was hired.
He and Probst worked to repair relationships with the International Olympic Committee and finalized a revenue-sharing deal that had been a source of contention between the USOC and the IOC.
Los Angeles entered a bid for 2024 and a year ago accepted the 2028 Games as part of an agreement with the IOC and Paris to award two hosts at the same time.
The USOC is also looking at a Winter Olympics bid, most likely from Salt Lake City, in 2030.