Friday, September 24, 2010

My Response to Scott Blackmun's General Address to the USOC

September 25, 2010 Update:

Amongst his other remarks NBC Sports and Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol echoed Blackmun's praise for Lysacek in his speech to the U.S. Olympic Assembly awards dinner Friday night.

"Evan Lysacek, on very little sleep, appeared before the world press repeatedly in the hours following his victory,'' Ebersol said. "He so artfully walked through that whole minefield and made us proud to be Americans."

"He never took the bait. He just talked about how wonderful it was to be an Olympian. It was spectacular.''
To be honest, there is not a lot I can say in response to this.  It is true that Evan, without much sleep, repeatedly appeared before the world press and he did NOT respond in kind when he so easily could have.  He did take a few hits from the Russian press, and even Putin became involved.

I am, however, struggling a little with the use of the word 'spectacular' when so much else happened in these Olympics, not all of it pleasant, and some of it genuinely spectacular!   However, figure skating is a marquee event at the Winter Olympics, so there was a lot of press attention and there is no doubt Evan handled things well at the time.  I think what most of  are struggling with here is his behavior since, which has been less than exemplary at times. 

Johnny Weir will never get the recognition from NBC, the USOC, the USFSA or so many other entities that he deserves.  Sad really!
On September 23rd, 2010 USOC CEO Scott Blackmun and USOC Chairman of the Board Larry Probst delivered a general address to the U.S. Olympic Assembly

Here is my response to the remarks by Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the U.S.O.C. (also posted at the Olympic team Facebook page):

Blackmun made some good comments, however his mention of Evan Lysacek being his proudest moment of the Vancouver games turned me off.

It's too bad Lysacek hasn't kept up behavior worthy of a 'proudest' moment. His snide remarks re Johnny Weir's gender via Twitter (Olympic Gold Medalist Shows His True Colors); his comments suggesting Weir was not good enough for Stars On Ice, as well as a few other remarks he has made are an embarrassment not worthy of an Olympic Gold Medalist. 

'Great character'?  Really Mr. Probst?  'Great character' is not solely defined by a one-time reaction to a stupid remark; it is defined by how a person handles a lifetime of remarks, situations, slurs, disappointments and so on.  Johnny Weir is such a person; and while I wouldn't say Evan Lysacek has 'bad' character, I don't think he can be defined as having 'great character' either. 

While I would agree Lysacek handled the comments from Plushenko and the others very well at the time; I was far more impressed with how Weir handled the comments from the Canadian and Australian broadcasters re his gender.  There's a 'proudest moment' and a 'teaching moment'!
Following are the complete remarks of Scott Blackmun and Larry Probst before the U.S. Olympic Assembly:
Scott Blackmun and Larry Probst deliver general address to U.S. Olympic Assembly

September 24, 2010 9:23 AM

U.S. Olympic Assembly: General Address (Larry Probst)

I think it’s safe to say, this past year has been one of the most challenging in the history of the USOC.

And in many ways, it has also been one of the best.

Team USA—our incredible athletes—did something in Vancouver that no American team had achieved at the Winter Games since 1932.

They won more medals than any other nation… thirty-seven in total … a Winter Olympic Games record.

Some may have thought we would never see Americans on the top of the podium in Nordic Combined - but Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane did precisely that.

And my hat is off to our Paralympic Team as well – they did a phenomenal job of representing our country!

What incredible inspiration Team USA delivered to America from Vancouver!

And it has been a very significant year off the field of play as well.

Without rehashing all the issues we faced in the last year, I do believe the USOC is in a much better place today than this time a year ago.

We have strengthened the responsiveness and openness of our organization from top to bottom.

We have become more engaged in your needs here at home—and in the needs of the International Olympic community.

We’ve taken measures that not only improved our governance model and strengthened our leadership team, but have begun to build a new foundation of trust with Lausanne and the leaders of international sport.

We are much more of a family—with more equality and more opportunity to be heard at the leadership level.

In short, we are making progress on multiple fronts and I firmly believe the USOC is now on a very positive track.

In many ways, last year was a year of earning trust.

Trust doesn’t happen because of titles or past accomplishments.

Trust doesn’t come from promises.

Trust belongs to the province of relationships.

You build trust by earning respect … and developing friendships… both at home and abroad.

And I think the journey we’ve begun is headed in the direction of real trust and genuine respect.

Our theme at this Assembly is “One Team.”

To be one team, we have to trust one another.

And so, as I talk about what we attempted to do and what we accomplished in this last year, I want you to know that most of the initiatives I led as chairman were the direct and specific result of listening to you.

In my mind, the ability to listen and learn is one of the most important requirements for any successful executive.

Out of the turmoil that followed Chicago’s devastating loss last October, I decided to put those skills to the test—to listen and learn in an effort to get to know you better, and to better understand The Movement, before moving forward with any important initiatives.

To give you a sense of what motivates me, let me tell you why I came to the USOC in the first place.

I believe that sport provides, perhaps more than anything else in life, a platform that unites us.

That may seem ironic given some of the historic divisions in our organization, but I believe it is true.

And it’s certainly true across America when Team USA is competing.

I believe the American dream and the Olympic dream are almost perfectly aligned.

And I believe that we—the U.S. Olympic Family—have one of the most important responsibilities in our country - helping young athletes to develop their talents—and providing the road map that can ultimately lead them to the podium.

Because we help make it possible for American athletes to experience the glory of representing their country and achieving everything they’re capable of achieving, I believe we play a unique and privileged role in American society.

I joined the USOC to help strengthen and support that effort—to unite us and our world in friendship and peace through sport.

Then came Chicago 2016 … and the idea that America was once again ready … this time with the right candidate city … to welcome the world back to our shores for the Summer Olympic Games.

Let me recount what happened … not to stir resentment … or bemoan the loss – Rio won fair and square - but to provide perspective on where we really stood in the Olympic world … as opposed to where we thought we stood.

Chicago 2016 offered the IOC everything an American city could possibly deliver.

A great plan set along the shores of Lake Michigan that would deliver an extraordinary experience for the athletes.

A great bid leader in Pat Ryan - one of the most capable and accomplished men ever to step into the five ring arena.

A great mayor in Richard M Daley. The magnificent transformation of Chicago under his leadership demonstrates that he is a true visionary.

A passionately committed President and First Lady – and a White House ready to make Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport a national priority.

A nation rising in support … with more than 170 cities celebrating Olympic Day in honor of Chicago 2016 … and a legacy plan designed to draw inner city youth to sport in new ways for years to come.

It was a bid of incredible technical merit and social promise.

And yet, we lost tragically in round one.

Without taking anything away from Rio’s win – the first ever Games to take place on the continent of South America - the rejection of Chicago was a shocking blow … that told us there was still much work to be done.

And that loss convinced me that I had a lot to learn about the Olympic Movement … and how it worked internationally if I was going to serve you as an effective leader overseas.

More importantly—and even more immediately—the reaction to the loss here at home—your reaction as the U.S. Olympic Family—opened my eyes to the fact we had very serious problems within our own family

… that trust was completely lost … and that nothing short of a full transformation in our relationships and our governance was needed … if we were going to have any chance to continue to fulfill our mission and begin to operate as one team.

The situation called for a year of real action, which I would describe as significant and sustainable change.

From my perspective, it called for three things: reassessment, reengagement and redirection.

Reassessment meant looking at our governance, our decision making process and the way in which we related to and served each and every one of the constituent groups gathered here this week. It meant the Tagliabue Commission.

Reengagement meant a new beginning in the long-term process of building meaningful relationships, friendships and partnerships with the IOC and the broader Olympic Movement. It meant a new focus on international relations.

Redirection meant finding the right leader to engage with our entire family – someone who would listen, learn and develop a strategic plan that ensured we were moving in the right direction on every front. It meant a search for a new CEO.

Let me comment on each:

First, the Tagliabue Commission. Toward the end of last year, I asked former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to chair an independent advisory committee with the core mission of assessing our governance and recommending structural changes and enhancements that would make us more responsive to each and every constituent group we serve.

I asked Paul with the full expectation that this committee would do more than help us restructure. I believed that under his expert guidance, they would help identify a path by which we could begin rebuilding the trust that had been lost within our family—between the Board, the staff, the NGBs, the AAC and the MSOs.

I knew this was going to be a very critical undertaking—and that it could not possibly achieve the right insights and results without the full participation of established NGB leaders and athletes—both Olympians and Paralympians—plus a number of key, critical thinkers within our ranks.

With Jeanne Picariello, John Naber, Courtney Johnson, Ann Cody, Matt Van Houten and Skip Gilbert on board, to name a few, I was confident we’d gain great insights from their work.

And they did not disappoint.

With the recommendation to expand the board, it will be more representative and democratic with a broader range of voices that more accurately reflect the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders—with more channels to ensure that your collective interests are expressed, heard and acted upon.

I want to thank Paul Tagliabue and all the members of his commission again for the stellar work they did on behalf of the USOC.

Please give them all a hand.

The second major initiative I undertook in the last year is long-term in the extreme.

And it is much, much more engaging for me personally.

International relations in the Olympic Movement is about personal involvement.

Sport will always be a relationship business, but in the Olympic Movement it is based on a set of shared ideals … that make it much more of a culture than a business.

In many ways, it is a society of sport that revolves around relationships and networks of friends who help shape the direction of the Olympic Movement.

The single most important requirement for success in this game is being there.

You have to be present, not represented by someone else, but personally present.

And I can assure you, I have been present this past year – in Vancouver, in Merida/Mexico, in Lausanne, in Dubai, in Mayaguez/Puerto Rico, in Singapore and with trips planned later this year to Mexico, Japan, China and Serbia to name a few.

I’m gaining insights and perspectives on how key IOC members view America’s place in the Olympic Movement and the appropriate role of the NOCs.

I think we’re in a better position, relationship-wise, than we’ve been in some time. A concrete example is the recently announced agreement that we negotiated with the IOC to address the issue of Games costs. We created a win-win scenario for both the USOC and the IOC and solved a troublesome problem that had been lingering for years.

But I don’t want to exaggerate our achievements.

This is a space that is very hard to evaluate in terms of progress.

It’s obviously up to others to pass judgment on the quality of the relationships we’re building.

But, I will say this. We are taking a thoughtful, patient and systematic approach to this activity and I believe we are succeeding.

American business is primarily focused on results – there is typically a rush to the bottom line.

But in the world of international relations, at least in the Olympic Movement, the concern is more about process than results, more about means rather than the end, and more about dialogue than conclusions.

We are being honest and open and present and I believe we are on the right track.

Now to redirection. Perhaps our biggest single accomplishment this year was hiring Scott Blackmun and bringing him back to the USOC.

Let’s give Scott a true USA welcome to his first Olympic Assembly as our CEO.

You know, I spent a lot of time during my career evaluating executive talent. At Electronic Arts there was a constant search for executives with the ability to foster a winning environment and to create the conditions that facilitated outstanding performance. In looking for the right leader, you always begin by aligning the credentials and experience with the requirements of the responsibility.

Then it becomes a matter of judging character, and confirming alignment on a common vision. You listen carefully to candidates to get a sense about the kind of environment they would create as a leader, the impact they would have on the team, and their motivation to excel.

In Scott’s case - the fit was perfect. It’s the job he has always wanted and it’s the job I believe he was destined to have.

Everything that has happened since we brought Scott back has confirmed that we found the leader we needed. I won’t steal his thunder by telling you about the strategic plan he’s developed, but the Board is united in its opinion that he is leading us … not only in the right direction … but in the best direction.

And I personally could not be more pleased to be partnered with such a skilled and humble consensus builder. Over the next decade, I believe he will make our team much stronger, our brand even more respected and our role in the Olympic Movement ever more prominent.

Now let me close by telling you what the Olympic Movement means to me.

I believe the Olympic Movement is the greatest force for good in our world today.

Because of what it does in more than 200 countries 365 days a year, filling young people with the inspiration of sport and the values of excellence, friendship and respect, the Olympic Movement is worthy of our full dedication and support.

While politics and deal making may always be part of the equation … the Olympic Movement embodies the highest ideals of sport. It is sport with a social purpose, and that purpose is to build a better world.

To achieve that end, I believe the Olympic Movement needs a strong, vital and healthy partnership with the United States.

And I’m committed to building that partnership internationally … to helping achieve that ultimate goal … working closely with you, and Scott, to strengthen your organizations here at home … and fulfilling our role as a model of excellence in the global Olympic Movement!

Thank you.

Now, before I turn the podium over to Scott, let’s remember why we do what we do.
U.S. Olympic Assembly: General Address (Scott Blackmun)

There’s nothing I can say about the Vancouver Games that would do justice to the remarkable achievements of America’s athletes. 37 medals.

The most ever by an American team.

The most ever by any team.

But these weren’t just winners on the field of play…this was a team with great character.

I think about Evan Lysacek, and the way he handled the critical comments that were made following his amazing performance.

As an American, it was one of my proudest moments during the Games. As a father, it was a great teaching moment.

Most of you know that I was a candidate for this job in 2001.

While it was a difficult pill to swallow at the time, in retrospect I am grateful to be standing here now instead of then.

And I’ll tell you why.

In 2001, the USOC wasn’t structured to succeed. We were an organization driven by compromises.

If you support my cause, I will support yours.

Often times the causes weren’t even USOC causes.

They were individual NGB causes. Or AAC causes. Or community-based organization causes. And on and on and on. I was there and I saw it happening every day.

Thankfully, we made significant changes in 2003.

I don’t need to remind you what they were, but the theory was that we would have a board of directors that, free from any conflicts of interest,….AND I QUOTE “could agree on…and then manage…the appropriate prioritization of purposes and allocation of resources”.

The theory was spot on.

But we threw the baby out with the bathwater.

In addition to eliminating the conflicts of interest, we stopped listening to our constituents.

And that’s why we got into the trouble that we did.

As I stand here today, though, I am filled with optimism about the future of our American Olympic family, and in particular about the future of the USOC.

One of the reasons for that is we have a Chairman who is not only a world class leader, but a leader whose only aspirations are to advance the cause of the United States Olympic Committee.

Larry has told many of you that when he first took the job, he wasn’t aware of how much time it would take to do it well.

He knows now.

What I have seen since I started in January is a Chairman who is focused on building relationships with the people who matter most in the worldwide Olympic Movement.

Larry told you a little bit about where he’s been. Suffice it to say he’s been everywhere we asked him to go.

And believe me, this is a guy who has a lot of other options.

Let me say it a different way.

Larry stepped forward.

He stepped forward to listen.

He didn’t shy away from controversy or criticism. He didn’t take the easy way out.

And he’s been a great partner for me and the rest of our management team.

I want to make sure you know that he has our support and our gratitude. ..Larry, thank you.

The other cause for my optimism derives from the immense power of America’s athletes and their stories.

The power to inspire us and make all of us recognize that we’re part of something more than just sport.

We are surrounded by role models and heroes, and on some level we just need to get out of their way.

People like Jesse Owens, who well before the Civil Rights era, transcended prejudice here and abroad to become America’s proud symbol of excellence and dignity at the Olympic Games in Nazi Germany

Bonnie Blair, who with five Gold medals, continues to show us that humility and grace can accompany greatness.

Dan Jansen, who persevered through tragedy and stunning disappointments to gather himself together in his final Olympic appearance and win a gold medal we all wanted him to win.

Billy Mills, a native American Lakota, who overcame poverty and bigotry to represent our nation in Tokyo, and in a shocking upset, outran one of the finest 10,000 meter fields in history.

I could go on forever.

And it’s not just those of us that live in the Olympic movement that are inspired by America’s Olympians.

Consider these numbers from a survey we released last week:

90 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that U.S. Olympians “most positively represent the U.S. to the world.” 90 percent.

The second place vote-getter was professional baseball players at 30 percent.

Think about that.

86 percent of Americans believe Team USA “exemplifies excellence.” Next closest is the NFL at 36 percent.

84 percent believe our athletes are “positive role models for children.”

Maybe the most important learning from our survey…84 percent

Second place was the NCAA at 37 percent.

So our job is simple.

We, and by “we” I mean the USOC, already have a world class product.

Our job is to create the platform for the stories of our athletes to be told. It’s as easy as that.

But we have to conduct our business in a way that doesn’t denigrate those stories. We denigrate those stories when we allow our political struggles to occupy even the smallest share of mind outside of this room.

As the custodians of the Olympic and Paralympic Movement in the United States, we can’t allow the stories of our athletes to be crowded off the page by stories about us.

We will have disagreements. And we will make mistakes.

The important thing is that we have to address those disagreements directly, and in a spirit of partnership.

And our mission of competitive excellence has to be foremost in our minds when we have those discussions.

Eleanor Roosevelt said…

“Small minds talk about people,…average minds talk about events…, great minds talk about ideas”.

We need to talk about ideas.

The ideas that will serve our cause and move us forward together for decades to come.

On the subject of partnership, the NGBs have a much more difficult job than the USOC.

We look to you, our NGBs, to identify, motivate, support and train the athletes who will represent the United States at the Olympic Games.

And as we all know, there are millions of young men and women, some not yet born, who have a chance to compete on the world’s largest stage.

Even with resources, the task of shaping those young men and women into Olympic caliber athletes is monumental.

But many of you have limited resources, and I recognize that our most important job is to provide you with more.

We do not view ourselves as your competitor in the marketplace for sponsorship dollars. Most of our revenue goes to the NGBs and their athletes, and it does not matter whether it comes in through a USOC door or an NGB door.

One of my highest priorities is to change the culture of the USOC when it comes to the tone of our relationship with the NGBs.

We need to operate in a culture of service to you, not supervision and superiority.

That doesn’t mean we won’t have high expectations of our partners, some of which are in the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act and some of which aren’t.

Partnership is a two way street, and we don’t have the luxury of allocating resources where they don’t have an impact.

But it does mean that we will define our success by your success, and that we’ll do everything we reasonably can to help you get there.

If I may, I would like to digress for a few minutes and walk you through where we as an organization are focused.

Let’s start with where we want to be, with a vision for the future.

Much has been said in the last year about governance, and you all know that the composition of our board of directors will likely be altered tomorrow.

Irrespective of the outcome of those discussions, I promise you, individually and collectively, that you will have a voice.

The Olympians will have a voice.

Multisport organizations will have a voice.

The AAC will have a voice and the NGB Council will have a voice.

I am accessible to all of you and I want to hear what’s on your mind.

The quality of the dialogue, however, must continue to evolve.

Twenty years ago, when I first became exposed to the US Olympic Movement, much of the dialogue was about the balance of power among our constituents.

It was, to use Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, about people, rather than ideas.

Last year we allowed that dialogue to resurface by failing to communicate.

Thankfully, I think we are at a different point today.

These next couple days will hopefully be about what we can do together to support the Olympic and Paralympic movement in America and America’s elite athletes.

That idea, and those athletes, are why we all got involved in the first place.

As a closing thought, let’s have some fun.

Athletes from the United States have won more than 2,000 medals in the modern Olympic Games. 2,573…more than any other country on the planet.

We’re obviously doing a lot of things right.

I think we should spend more of our time together recognizing that fact and celebrating how lucky we are to be a part of the greatest sports movement in the world.

I’m honored to be part of that movement and I’m grateful for your partnership as we lead the movement into the future.

Thank you.

For more information, please contact the USOC Communications Division at (719) 866-4529 or visit The Official Website of the USOC. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


Resources and References:

Wheres My Koppy's Blog: gender test THIS: Olympic Gold Medalist Shows His True Colors

gender test THIS: Olympic gold medalist shows his true colors

Wheres My Koppy's Blog: Unfortunately It's All About Hate and Ignorance...

Misfit Mimes Blog: I Don't Evan

Misfit Mimes Blog: Oh I See He Decided to Go With Multi-Part Option D ...

Misfit Mimes Blog: Guuuuuurrrrrrlll...

Johnny Weir: A Man Amongst Men  (My Blog with video of Vancouver Press Conference) - Evan Lysacek Questions Johnny Weir's Gender

Johnny Weir's March 2006 Blog  (Describes Some of the Slurs He Has Endured)

French Broadcasters: Johnny Weir Should Take Gender Test

Quebec Gay and Lesbian Council Calls on Broadcasters to Apologize
Complaints Filed Against Homophobic Sportscasters PopWatch: Johnny Weir responds to commentators who questioned his gender, example he sets

UPDATE: USOC, NBC Sports bosses give props to Evan Lysacek

1 comment:

PumaJ said...

The amount of BS in those remarks is enough to choke a person. Still, all of the speaker's protestations aside, the evidence for the profound politics of the committee in relation to other nations is astounding. In truthm they leave no room for a person of Johnny's artistic genius. Their need to keep the public face "look good" looking very manistream and average lresents thiem from embracing and extolling an athlete such as Johnny.

Lysacek has always been very, very good at and willing to play the role
assigned to him. I suspect he lacks the imagination to do otherwise. But it is that plus his decent skating skills that got him the gold.