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Opinion: Time to Extinguish the U.S. Olympic Committee

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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)

 

Every four years, athletes scrape the grime and graft off the Olympics, and restore them to magnificence.

We should demand that the Jessie Digginses, Red Gerards, John Shusters and Lamoureux sisters become the genuine focus of this country's Olympic movement. Congress should knock down the U.S. Olympic Committee, get rid of the bilkers who skim cash off the sweat of our greatest competitors and give little in return.

The USOC has its nerve taking credit for a gold medal in women's ice hockey, given that the U.S. team had to threaten to strike just to get decent meal money. USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun made $1 million in salary and bonuses in 2016. Meantime, until last spring, our women's hockey squad got just $6,000 apiece in an entire four-year cycle. This is a national team that has medaled in every Olympics since 1998, yet not until they staged a boycott were they granted a raise to a living wage.

The USOC is essentially defrauding us, and our champions. Blazer-wearing, propaganda-spouting executives maximize their earnings while devoting only the barest cash minimums and lip service to the care of athletes.

If you were wondering how champion U.S. gymnasts could be sexually abused by a team doctor for years, consider that their training center was so shoddy they didn't have a decent medical facility. Their ankles were taped sitting on a floor or in the bleachers.

The USOC is supposed to be a nonprofit, yet 129 of its staff make over six figures, and 14 execs more than $200,000.

Among our athletes in Korea were a firefighter, a national guardsman, and a mechanic. But the USOC's so-called "chief of sport performance" Alan Ashley was paid nearly $500,000 in 2016.

Let's look at bonuses: The USOC's board of directors handed out five of them of $100,000 or more in 2016, tax records show. Among the beneficiaries: Blackmun, Ashley and two in-house marketers who already were making six figures. The bonus for an American athlete who won a gold medal? $37,500.

Maybe all you need to know about the USOC is that the chair of that board of directors is Larry Probst, who devoted much of his adult life to commercially ripping off college athletes as the longtime CEO of Electronic Arts. For years EA used likenesses of NCAA stars without their permission, until a court stopped it. This is the head of your American Olympic movement. Look closely. And don't bother to ask again how serial abusers could flourish at the center of USA Olympic programs.

This is an organization filled with liability-dodging desk jockeys, who took until 2014 to institute even basic child protection policies, despite years of problems. During the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, a stream of stories broke describing fresh sources of outrage against athletes.

The Washington Post detailed the USOC's inaction on sexual abuse complaints across multiple sports. Among the gems uncovered was a 2015 deposition of USOC lawyer Gary Johansen in the case of a taekwondo athlete who alleged she was raped by her coach at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. According to Johansen's testimony, it wasn't the responsibility of the USOC to protect her from sexual abuse. The athlete's attorney asked, what then does the term "Team USA" even mean?

"That's a branding terminology," the USOC's lawyer said.

There you have it. The USOC has all the aggression in the world when it comes to poaching athletes' commercial rights, forcing them to wear approved sponsor garb, and generally sticking their hands into the athletes' pockets at every opportunity. But when it comes to serial sexual predators ? The USOC just can't summon the energy to investigate, or act. It isn't their job.

"We couldn't possibly get into the business of investigating allegations of misconduct in 47 different NGBs," Blackmun said before the 2016 Rio Games, when asked about chronic sex abuse in gymnastics.

In 2016, USA Swimming's executive director, the late Chuck Wielgus, made $850,000. The American swimmers who competed in the 2016 Summer Games? Their monthly stipends were capped at $42,000 a year.

Americans should find this organization insupportable. Three Congressional committees are investigating the gymnastics abuse scandal and should broaden their inquiries to include a thorough evaluation of USOC leadership, as well as leadership in each sport. Two things must happen:

First, Congress should dismiss the entire USOC executive staff, and board of directors for cause, and appoint a special chairman to a limited term to clean up this mess. This special chairman should be charged with forming a new body that serves athletes, instead of athletes serving the pockets of administrators.

Second, Congress should rewrite the USOC's charter to reflect that athletes are the heart and financial engine of the U.S. Olympic movement, by mandating that fully 50 percent of all USOC revenues go directly to competitors and team stipends.

Also, pay and bonuses for USOC officials should be capped: Never again should a USOC paper pusher get four times more in bonuses than a gold medalist. Finally, Congress should consider a national lottery to support Olympic athletes, as other countries have done, so that USOC funding is part public, open to greater examination, and illegal to subvert.

American Olympians clearly will endure almost anything to chase greatness. It makes you sick wondering how many potential American champions have been knocked off podiums by abuse, poverty or disillusion.

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February 27, 2018
 
 
 

 

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