In recent months, hundreds of girls and women have come forward detailing the horrific sexual abuse they endured at the hands of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. On Wednesday, Scott Blackmun stepped down from the U.S. Olympic Committee; he was one among many high-profile authority figures who reportedly failed to intervene in Nassar's systematic abuse of the young gymnasts he treated.
Blackmun has been one of the most prominent officials to face criticism over the Nassar scandal. In early February, the Wall Street Journal reported that USA Gymnastics had informed the USOC of abuse allegations against Nassar as early as July 2015, and then reported the allegations to the FBI. This was contrary to the USOC's initial claims that nobody in the organization knew about Nassar until an Indianapolis Star report about accusations against Nassar in September 2016.
In a statement on Wednesday, the USOC pointed to Blackmun's health as a reason for his stepping down. (Blackmun revealed in January that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.) USOC Chairman Larry Probst said in the statement:
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 so that we can immediately address the urgent initiatives ahead of us. The important work that Scott started needs to continue and will require especially vigorous attention in light of Larry Nassar’s decades-long abuse of athletes affiliated with USA Gymnastics.
In the statement announcing his resignation on Wednesday, the USOC also noted that it will put in place "new initiatives" to protect athletes from abuse.
Scores of Olympic gymnasts have called for Blackmun's resignation in the wake of the Nassar scandal. After the Journal's report was published, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Joni Ernst also demanded he step down from his position in the USOC. In a joint statement, Shaheen and Ernst said, "If these reports are true, this goes far beyond negligence and raises serious questions of culpability at USOC."
Ironically, in January, it was Blackmun himself who demanded that the entire USA Gymnastics board of directors resign. In an open letter, Blackmun wrote, “The purpose of this message is to tell all of Nassar’s victims and survivors, directly, how incredibly sorry we are. We have said it in other contexts, but we have not been direct enough with you. We are sorry for the pain caused by this terrible man, and sorry that you weren’t afforded a safe opportunity to pursue your sports dreams.”
One of the most prominent critics against Blackmun is the aforementioned Sen. Shaheen. According to NBC News, Shaheen called Blackmun's resignation was "long overdue." She also said, "The U.S. Olympic Committee must now bring on new leadership determined to deliver answers and accountability regarding how Larry Nassar was able to freely abuse young girls for decades, as well as answers to questions about abuse in other Olympic programs."
In spite of the criticism against Blackmun, he has received some support from members within his organization, such as Probst. While speaking in January, Probst defended how Blackmun handled accusations of abuse against Nassar. "We think that [Blackmun] did what he was supposed to do, and did the right thing," Probst said. "But again, that investigation will be transparent, it will become public and whatever actions are required and appropriate based on that investigation will be taken by our board."
In the meantime, the committee will appoint a board member to fill Blackmun's spot. Susanna Lyons will be the interim CEO for the United States Olympic Committee as the organization figures out who will be its permanent CEO.
Mehreen Kasana contributed to this report.