The U.S. Olympic Committee announced its new CEO yesterday—Sarah Hirshland. She previously was an executive with the U.S. Golf Association and, before that, spent several years at Wasserman Media Group, a giant sports marketing agency whose CEO, Casey Wasserman, helped bring the Olympics to Los Angeles.
While athletes across the country continue to come forward and say they were abused by their doctors and coaches—people they trusted and believed could help them reach the Olympics—the USOC has picked a marketer. Someone who thinks in terms of branding. Someone who would never speak ill of the Olympics or the Olympic movement. Someone who is even from the same state that the USOC calls home, Colorado.
The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins called for the USOC to pick someone who would put athletes before profits. I’m sure that if asked, Hirshland would insist that she will. But her resume speaks otherwise, and that’s what matters. The USOC press release said Hirshland’s duties at USGA included content distribution, corporate partnerships, global partnerships, merchandise and licensing, and marketing. Her accomplishments, per the press release, included creating a “centralized marketing function.” Before that, she worked at Wasserman, where she did more sports marketing.
When asked about what she will do about sexual abuse, Hirshland conceded in interviews that she couldn’t immediately offer a way to fix the culture of abuse that seemed to permeate so many Olympic sports. Having no apparent background in athletic competition beyond the marketing of it, or sexual abuse, or the intersection between athletic competition and sexual abuse, or anything else that directly bears on the gravest issues facing the Olympic movement, it makes sense that she wouldn’t have a magical answer to proffer. She can, though, hit the ground running on one thing: marketing. The WSJ reported that the USOC and LA28 “are forming a joint venture that will control U.S.-related Olympic and and Paralympic sponsorship rights from 2021-2028.” It is expected to start selling next year.
This is, of course, all that matters to the USOC. It doesn’t matter how the USOC spins in a press release; it doesn’t matter how much Hirshland says she cares; and I’m wary of giving her many bonus points just because she’s a woman. A glorified, taxpayer-funded marketing agency undergoing a massive sex abuse criss just put a marketer whose former boss openly loves—and is in a position to profit massively from—the Olympics in charge. How this signals anything other than “we hope to make this entire issue go away very soon” is beyond me.