American soccer executive Chuck Blazer has died at the age of 72. His lawyers announced his death on Wednesday night. Blazer was a pioneer in the American soccer business, but he was most famous for his corruption and for cooperating with the FBI’s investigation into corruption in soccer in order to avoid jail time.
Blazer’s cause of death was announced as rectal cancer. Blazer also said that he had diabetes and coronary artery disease in 2013. He was hospitalized regularly after he resigned from FIFA in that year.
After starting his career in youth soccer in his home state of New York, Blazer joined U.S. Soccer in 1984 and was appointed General Secretary of CONCACAF in 1990. He served in that position for 21 years, earning a reputation as a business innovator, both in growing the sport and figuring out how to funnel money to himself. He earned the nickname Mr. Ten Percent by skimming roughly that much off the top from many of CONCACAF’s successful business deals and operations.
Before the United States Department of Justice handed down the first of several indictments of corrupt soccer executives, the New York Daily News reported that Blazer was working as an informant for the FBI. Their reporting revealed some incredible things about Blazer’s lifestyle — he got CONCACAF to buy him a Hummer even though he lived in Manhattan, he didn’t pay his taxes for more than 10 years, and he had a second apartment in Trump Tower that was exclusively for his cats.
For 21 years, Blazer was the literal and figurative partner in crime of CONCACAF president Jack Warner, who is allegedly so corrupt that he took Haitian earthquake relief money. Blazer encouraged Warner to run for that position, and together, they cooked up the ideas that would turn CONCACAF into a marketing giant and make them both rich. That didn’t stop Blazer from helping the FBI to build its case against Warner, who is facing potential extradition to the United States.
In 2011, Blazer agreed to start working for the FBI to keep himself out of prison. He continued to work for CONCACAF and FIFA, gathering information for two years before resigning. In 2013, he plead guilty to tax evasion, wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. He was ordered to pay $1.9 million in restitution but did not serve any time.
These are ultimately the things that Blazer will be remembered for. Most of the positives will be an afterthought, but there were plenty of them. The professionalization of the United States men’s national team, the founding of the United States women’s national team, and the successful bid for the 1994 World Cup all happened while Blazer was an executive with U.S. Soccer. He’s also widely credited for playing a central role in the founding of MLS, the Confederations Cup, and the Club World Cup, as well as changing how FIFA sells television rights for the World Cup.
Perhaps Blazer did these things for the sole purpose of enriching himself and his friends, rather than to make soccer better. Regardless, they are still things that Blazer did, and his actions led to more opportunities for soccer players around the world, especially in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
But Blazer did good things in a way that created a model for executives and middlemen to siphon money into their own bank accounts, away from players and coaches. A total of 41 people have been charged by the DOJ for doing what Blazer taught many of them how to do, in two separate indictments. Many of them are people who Blazer happily did business with for decades, then ratted out. More are either yet to be caught, or are finding legal ways to make money off soccer players and coaches without doing anything to help them.
For better or worse, American soccer was modernized through Blazer’s vision and actions. He is among the most important figures in soccer history. But he is likely to be remembered as doing more harm than good.