5:57 PM EDT, May 19, 2012
If I were among the vast majority of U.S. Olympians who struggle to make ends meet, I would be taken aback by the salaries of U.S. Olympic Committee staff members listed in the 2011 USOC tax filing made public today.
It showed 14 USOC employees earned from $238,910 (Mitchell Poll, marketing managing director) to $742,367 (Scott Blackmun, the CEO) in salaries and bonuses.
Blackmun also received $160,610 in "other compensation from the organization and related organizations." According to USOC communications director Patrick Sandusky, that includes health care benefits, savings and company matches of savings.
Blackmun's total compensation, $902,977, included a base salary of $456,211 and a long-term performance bonus of some $140,000 he is scheduled to receive in 2014.
The earnings list includes $655,219 for former chief operating officer Norm Bellingham, who worked full-time for the USOC less than two months in 2011 (he was a consultant through the end of the year), and $365,178 for Sandusky (4th highest compensated.)
(For the whole list, click here, then click on "2011 tax disclosure," then look at Section VII of the Form 990.)
I missed something on my first reading of the 990. There are an aggregate 83 employees (see page 8) who received reportable compensation of $100,000 or more from the USOC in 2011. That is four more six-figure payouts than the year before, even though - as noted in the next paragraph - some such people were off the books by 2011. Meanwhile, athlete medal bonuses ($25,000, $15,000, $10,000) have not increased for more than a decade.
The good thing is the USOC has achieved enough stability since Blackmun became CEO in 2010 that it no longer is paying fired former executives six figures a year - or, in the case of departed acting CEO Stephanie Streeter, seven figures.
"The USOC is dedicated to excellence and demands a great deal from USOC executives. In order to recruit and retain the very best in the business, we provide market-based compensation," Sandusky said in an email. "However, independent research has shown that these salaries are well in-line, and often less, than salaries at other top sports organizations throughout the country.
"In addition, at every position where we have made a new hire over the course of the last 2-plus years (i.e. the CEO, CAO, CCO, etc) the person we have recruited has been paid a salary that is less than what we paid their predecessor."
I know some non-profits pay their top employees substantially more than the USOC does.
And the USOC contends the real comparables are major collegiate conferences and some big-time college sports factories, which pay executives, athletic directors and some coaches even bigger salaries.
Of course, those obscene college salaries, both at schools and conferences, are an example of how lily-livered university presidents have allowed sports to pervert the purposes of higher education.
And, for better or for worse, organizations like the USOC trade on the idea that there is something nobler about the Olympics, and they love everyone to tell heartwarming stories about athletes who have sacrificed to realize their dreams of competing in the Games.
I understand no one forces a person to become an athlete in a "non-rev" (or any) Olympic sport. Yet the USOC expects them to do well - after all, its mission is winning medals.
The 2011 total for the highest paid employees came to $4.9 million, which actually is a little less than the year before. If that were cut by even 10 percent, it could be $10,000 a year for each of 50 athletes to whom that would seem like a lot of money.
There also is an underlying irony in all this.
The USOC salaries are a provocation to those within the international Olympic movement who want the USOC to take a smaller share of global sponsorship and U.S. television rights in that ongoing kerfluffle.
After Chicago's humiliating first-round defeat in the 2016 Summer Olympic host city vote, Denis Oswald of Switzerland was among the International Olympic Committee members who told me the size of USOC salaries was among the things much of the world cannot understand - or accept - about the USOC.
Coincidentally, the USOC has recently begun emphasizing donations as a new source of revenue, seeking what essentially are charitable gifts. I would be more inclined to make such a gift if I knew the USOC honchos were doing the same by returning 10 percent of their compensation, either as a gift or a salary cut - even if some already are in a program of executive giving to the organization, according to Sandusky.
What this boils down to is not unlike the philosophical situation that led to the Occupy movement, even if the USOC salaries are barely pocket change compared to those of the major corporate CEOs and high-level execs and hedge fund managers who are the object of Occupy protests.
To many Olympic athletes, those USOC executives still look like the 1 percent.
That is not an image they should want.
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