Eyes on the (2028) prize

If the weekend seems a long way away for most if not many of you, 2028 probably seems like Pluto, the farthest reaches of your personal universe.

In Olympic time, however, 2028 is already on the horizon, and the days and weeks are already slipping by. These next 10 years are the imperative for the United States Olympic Committee and, indeed, for all who would understand the transformative potential of those Los Angeles Summer Games.

The USOC must — must — keep its eye on the prize.

That’s what it did Thursday in naming Sarah Hirshland, chief commercial officer of the U.S. Golf Association, its chief executive officer.

 Sarah Hirshland, new USOC chief executive // USOC via USGA

Sarah Hirshland, new USOC chief executive // USOC via USGA

Think big picture.

The USOC’s — really, International Olympic Committee’s — mega-contract with NBC is a done deal through 2032.

What, then, makes for the No. 1 variable between now and 2032?

Obvious answer:

LA 2028.

Which leads to the next obvious question, and equally obvious answer:

Who is the most important person in the Olympic movement in the United States, and — assuming he does not, god forbid, get hit by a truck, or whatever — still will be between now and opening ceremony in 2028? 

Casey Wasserman.

It was Wasserman who directed the bid that — along with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti — got the Games to LA for 2028 as part of a package deal that sent the 2024 Olympics to Paris.

The CEO decision Thursday came a year to the day plus-one — it was last July 11 — that the IOC approved the double allocation

Next, an Olympic history and math reminder: 

The 1984 LA Games produced a surplus of $232.5 million.

Peter Ueberroth, who ran those Games, had a hard rule: don’t build stuff. 

Same rule applies for 2028.

It’s thus not exactly rocket science to deduce that the 2028 Games should — absent an unforeseeable earthquake, or whatever — make an enormous amount of money.

Before joining the USGA in 2011, Hirshland was a senior executive at Wasserman’s company. 

If you are the USOC, doesn’t it make a world of logical sense to have as your chief executive someone who a) Wasserman respects but b) is not a Wasserman stooge because c) she hasn’t worked with him in seven years, meaning the two of them d) can be businesspeople and sit across the table and get things done?

To be clear:

This USOC job title is “chief executive officer.” See d) above. This is what CEOs do. 

It is not Sarah Hirshland’s job to convict Larry Nassar. That has already been done. 

It will be her job to listen, and to a great many constituencies, everyone from athletes to congresspeople, and to lead.

A new leader in the CEO’s seat probably ought to lower the temperature on the rhetoric all around, which would be a healthy — and welcome — development.

But again to be clear:

Larry Nassar is not USOC culture. To argue that he is, or declare that he is symbolic of USOC leadership, is a leap of logic that fails spectacularly. 

Nassar is a despicable guy who, as the court records have made clear, did horrific things. 

Even so, we are still a long way away from a full reckoning — for instance, why the long FBI delay? 

It’s completely, fundamentally appropriate to find out — for the victims, for everyone.

At the same time, that is not what the USOC is chartered to do and that is not going to be Sarah Hirshland’s job. 

Expectations here ought to be clear, too. She is the chief executive officer. Not the chief law officer.

The fundamental issue is not law but culture. Those of us who recall the ill-fated and short-lived Stephanie Streeter USOC CEO experiment from 2009 — she had virtually no experience with Olympic culture — remember, too, that it took Scott Blackmun, as well as his fundamental civility and decency, to set things right. He took over in January 2010.

For Hirshland, the landscape is simultaneously less and more complicated, if that’s possible. Less, because she’s not facing an NGB and IOC revolt. More, because emotion in some quarters over the Nassar matter is running so high and, of course, any CEO now must confront the 24/7 Twitter- and cable news-fueled outrage cycle. 

The USGA is not an Olympic national governing body. Golf is in the Olympics but, you know. 

It’s going to take HIrshland some time to figure out what’s what and who’s who. That’s her learning curve and, like anyone new to the Olympic scene, it’s likely to be formidable.

It stands to reason that Hirshland is likely to be a quick study. Time — as we all move closer to 2019 and then, tick, tick, tick, to 2028 — will tell. But those making this USOC CEO selection are acutely aware of the pressures to get it right.

If they didn’t — it’s gonna be not very good. Not very good at all.

Kudos, meantime, to Susanne Lyons, acting CEO since February, when Blackmun stepped aside. She said in a USOC statement that her goals were to “stabilize the organization, develop an aggressive action plan to increase athlete safety and respond to the challenges currently facing the organization” and help recruit her successor.

Lyons undertook a brutally difficult responsibility and executed it with dignity and distinction.

It helps when, you know, you keep your eye on the prize.