The U.S. Olympic Committee named Sarah Hirshland, formerly an official with the U.S. Golf Association, its new chief executive on Thursday.
Hirshland will be tasked with steering the organization through a pivotal period of change and uncertainty. The governing body for Olympic sports in the United States continues to face congressional scrutiny and is awaiting the results of an independent investigation that might explain the USOC’s role in and knowledge of the decades-long abuse perpetrated by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, a convicted child molester accused by more than 330 girls and women of sexual abuse.
“The USOC’s at a critical time in its history and it requires an energetic, creative and inspiring leader who will ensure the athletes we serve are protected, supported and empowered in every possible way,” USOC Chairman Larry Probst said on a conference call with reporters, “and we believe we have found that leader in Sarah Hirshland.”
Hirshland becomes the first woman to serve as the organization’s permanent chief executive. She was most recently the chief commercial officer for the USGA and was responsible for that organization’s media and content distribution, corporate partnerships, merchandise and licensing, marketing and communications. Her new posting will be markedly different, taking over a body that has been targeted by congressional leaders demanding change and accountability.
“As a female leader in the world of sport, I understand the importance of creating cultural change,” Hirshland said. “I understand the importance of creating an environment in which athletes can be successful in their personal and professional lives, and I understand what it takes to get there. For me, this is an incredible challenge but an incredible opportunity to really impact change and drive forward what is so good and solid about the history of the Olympics and Paralympics.”
Hirshland replaces Scott Blackmun, who resigned in February in the wake of the sex abuse scandal that rocked USA Gymnastics. She will be the organization’s fourth chief executive since a 2003 management and ethics scandal prompted congressional hearings and forced a restructuring of the organization.
She previously worked for Wasserman Media Group under Casey Wasserman, chair of the LA 2028 committee that successfully won hosting rights for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The two will surely be working closely together, as a joint venture between the groups is expected to handle most of the USOC’s commercial and marketing efforts through the 2028 Games. That likely means Hirshland’s responsibilities could differ a bit from that of previous CEOs, especially as lawmakers continue to question the organization’s structure and practices.
The USOC has been under fire following sex scandals across several sports, most prominently the Nassar controversy. At a May hearing held by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) blasted the organization, saying, “The USOC is more concerned about its own reputation and about medals and money than it is about athlete safety.”
Probst said he anticipates Hirshland will spend a “significant amount of time … in Washington to build and develop better relationships with our friends on Capitol Hill.
“So I think that will become a more important function of the overall responsibility going forward.”
Hirshland will begin her new post next month, taking over for Susanne Lyons, who was the organization’s acting CEO following Blackmun’s resignation.
The USOC used the firm Spencer Stuart to conduct a nationwide search. Officials said they wanted to have input from Nassar’s victims on the hire, but pending litigation prevented the USOC from directly contacting any of them.
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