By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) – U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun is resigning for medical reasons, the organization said on Wednesday, following months of sustained criticism stemming from the sex abuse scandal involving former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
The USOC cited in a statement Blackmun’s “ongoing health issues” related to prostate cancer, for which he has been receiving treatment. It also outlined in the same media release new reforms aimed at protecting its athletes from abuse.
The Colorado Springs, Colorado-based USOC, which announced the change less than a week after the Winter Olympic Games ended in Pyeongchang, South Korea, had resisted calls to fire Blackmun over the Nassar case. Blackmun, 60, did not attend the Games.
The scandal prompted the entire board of directors at USA Gymnastics, the sport’s U.S. governing body, to resign, along with the president and athletic director at Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked. It also spawned lawsuits and criminal and civil investigations.
A number of critics, including athletes who said they were abused and two U.S. senators – Iowa Republican Joni Ernst and New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen – had called for the ouster of Blackmun and USOC board members, accusing them of failing to act promptly on complaints raised against Nassar and fostering a culture of silence.
“Scott Blackmun’s resignation as CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee is long overdue,” John Manly, a lawyer representing 120 of Nassar’s victims, said in a statement. “Under his leadership, USOC has focused nearly all its efforts on money and medals while the safety of our athletes has taken a back seat.”
Shaheen also welcomed the resignation, citing Nassar’s years of abuse. “It’s clear that the culture at the U.S. Olympic Committee desperately needs to change,” she said in a statement.
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an advocate for female athletes and member of the Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC, said in a Twitter post Blackmun “didn’t enact basic #ChildProtection policies or educate the membership about how to prevent it.”
“His legacy will be that he failed athletes,” she said.
The USOC statement did not address whether the sexual abuse scandal played a role in Blackmun’s departure. His compensation in 2016 totaled $1.075 million, according to USOC tax filings.
“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,” USOC Chairman Larry Probst said in the statement.
Nassar pleaded guilty to molesting female athletes under the guise of medical treatment and was sentenced to life in prison.
Authorities say Nassar victimized more than 260 women and girls, including several Olympic gold medalists. Nearly 200 of them offered testimony during a pair of sentencing hearings in Michigan earlier this year.
USOC board member Susanne Lyons, who was chosen in January to lead a working group to address problems that the Nassar case had exposed, will serve as acting CEO while the organization searches for a permanent replacement.
The USOC also said on Wednesday it would increase funding for support and counseling for victims as well as investigations into abuse allegations, among other reforms.
Separately, USA Gymnastics said its vice president of development, Luan Peszek, has left the organization after nearly 30 years. Following a lengthy stint with the team’s communications department, Peszek was the top administrator for the women’s program for two years before assuming her most recent post in 2015. Her daughter Samantha was a 2008 Olympic silver medalist.
A team spokeswoman, Leslie King, declined to explain the circumstances of Peszek’s departure or say when the exit occurred. She said it was not related to the Nassar scandal.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York, Ian Simpson in Washington and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Ben Klayman and Paul Tait)