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USOC losing faces -- and face

May 6, 2009 | 11:59 am

Usoc2 There are two ways for me to look at the recent spate of upper-level management changes at the U.S. Olympic Committee.

One would simply be for me to get used to the idea of new faces in the USOC.

The other is seeing the USOC become an increasingly more faceless organization.  And that is my current view.

Its board members might as well be ciphers, since they no longer talk individually to the media.

Its new chairman, Larry Probst, (the only position where the recent change was orderly and mandated) has declined several one-on-one interview requests, and he left town before the Chicago 2016 press conference that followed the visit by the International Olympic Committee.  (In Probst's defense: he has been dealing with a significant family health issue, but he simply has not made himself available for much media interaction.)

The new CEO, Stephanie Streeter, comes from a corporate background like that of Probst.  She is learning quickly that her position includes media obligations, but that facet of the job still seems clearly to make her uncomfortable.

The new marketing director might as well be faceless to the staff in Colorado Springs, because she works from her home near Manhattan -- an arrangement that makes logistical sense even if it might not be the best way to accomplish team-building and staff interaction.

And now there will be a replacement for the person who has been more and more both the face and voice of the organization, communications chief Darryl Seibel, who announced his resignation Tuesday.

While Seibel insisted he was not forced out by the Probst-Streeter regime, it is evident that -- as I wrote Tuesday  -- his comfort level in the position had changed dramatically.

So the USOC has a chairman and a CEO who have almost no real experience in the Olympic movement, and they have lost a communications chief whose years of experience could cover the gaps in their knowledge.

The kind of replacement they hire for Seibel will be an indication of which direction Probst and Streeter intend to take the USOC.

Unlike for-profit sports organizations, the USOC does not have the financial resources to promote itself in the way the the NFL or Major League Baseball or others do.  The USOC long has benefited from a relationship with the media of a nature that  helps promote the Olympics and Olympic athletes without needing to spend advertising and marketing money it doesn't have -- and shouldn't spend even if it did, because those resources should go to athletes.

Will the new communications chief it be a flak with a purely corporate background who reinforces the idea that the USOC is no different from the companies Probst and Streeter ran?  Or will it be someone who has enough knowledge to understand that the only thing that makes the USOC worth talking about is the notion that it helps support the efforts of athletes who, for better or for worse, still stand in the public's eyes for something more meaningful than wins and losses.

Think that's an overly idealistic view of the USOC, some of whose past leaders have proved just as power-hungry, greedy and unethical as the Bernie Madoffs of the world?  That's not how most of the USOC staff sees itself -- or operates.

When I was investigating the misdeeds of one former leading USOC official, some USOC staffers disgusted with this person's behavior declined to speak on the record to bring the official down because they were genuinely worried it might also bring down the Olympic movement in the United States.

And speaking of bringing things down, I can't imagine the folks at Chicago 2016 are pleased with how yet another round of USOC turnover looks to the IOC members who will choose the 2016 host -- especially since the bid committee and the USOC have trumpeted their "unprecedented partnership."

(That partnership included friction between Chicago 2016 chairman Patrick Ryan and former USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth, especially after Ueberroth justifiably denounced intemperate demands from some IOC members that the USOC accept a diminished share of U.S. TV rights and IOC global sponsorship revenues.  Ryan prevailed, since Ueberroth no longer has the role with the Chicago bid that had been expected once he stepped down as USOC chairman last October.  In fact, Ueberroth's face has all but disappeared from the Chicago 2016 picture, partly because he decided to avoid anything that might hurt Chicago's chances.)

Even though New York's 2012 failed bid had enough issues of its own, the USOC turmoil that went on for more than two years during that candidature certainly did not help.

The USOC desperately needs another Olympics in the United States to boost its revenues, especially given both the recession and the uncertainty over the amount of TV rights after the NBC contract expires in 2012.  Chicago's bid gains credence from a smoothly functioning USOC.

There will be no way to know what effect the USOC's latest management shuffle will have on the IOC voters.  If Chicago wins, it will be much ado about nothing -- and maybe a justification for the decision to let Probst work behind the scenes while pushing Ueberroth aside.  If Chicago loses, it will be the second straight U.S. candidate whose efforts failed to overcome the USOC's image of instability.

There will be no way to put a good face on that.

-- Philip Hersh

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