Washington Spirit CEO resigns amid National Women's Soccer League controversy
Washington Spirit executive Steve Baldwin announced Tuesday that he has resigned from the team as CEO and managing partner, after The Washington Post reported on allegations of verbal and emotional abuse by the former head coach and claims of a toxic "old boy's club" culture within the organization.
Baldwin said in a statement that he resigned at the "recent request" of Spirit players and after listening to team leadership, fans and investors.
"This was an extremely difficult decision for me," he said. "I have poured everything into building this club and care deeply for the players, staff and fan case. I have no doubt made some mistakes, but my efforts and focus were always on building a professional experience for our players, the club's profile and the beautiful fame in the DMV."
"I hope stepping back removes me as a distraction and allows the club to thrive," he added.
The club drew national scrutiny in August after The Washington Post spoke to three former players who alleged that head coach Richie Burke was verbally and emotionally abusive. Burke has not spoken publicly about the allegations. The report prompted the National Women's Soccer League to investigate, and the findings of the investigation led to Burke's firing in September, the league said. The League did not elaborate on the findings of the investigation.
The Post also reported that while investigating the allegations against Burke, the League widened its probe to investigate the culture of the organization under Baldwin's leadership. The newspaper said that four women called the culture an "old boy's club" and two called it "misogynistic." The Post said Baldwin called its reporting inaccurate but did not respond to specific questions on the record.
In the statement announcing Burke's firing, the NWSL also criticized the operations of the team, writing, "The NWSL's board of governors has determined that the Spirit and its ownership have failed to act in the best interests of the League."
Baldwin's resignation comes as the National Women's Soccer League is grappling with misconduct allegations against Paul Riley, the former head coach of the North Carolina Courage, which Riley denies. On Sunday, U.S. Soccer announced it hired former U.S. attorney general Sally Yates to lead "an independent investigation into allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women's professional soccer."
The NWSL canceled five of its scheduled matches last weekend after the Athletic published an article in which Sinead Farrelly, who played for Riley on multiple teams, claimed he coerced her into having sex with him. Farrelly and colleague Mana Shim also alleged that when they played for him on the Portland Thorns for the 2014-2015 season, he coerced them into kissing each other. They also claimed he made inappropriate comments about their bodies, sexual orientation and relationships. RIley, who was fired from the Courage and had his coaching license suspended by U.S. Soccer, has denied all of the allegations.
During an appearance on "Today," on Tuesday, Farrelly said that the "damage" Riley allegedly caused "seeps into every part of your livelihood."
"There is a lot of loss that comes with that and things I will not get back, and I think when we can tap into the emotional impact of just showing up to try and be your authentic self, it really can hit home for lot of people because it's bigger than the sport. This is about safety in our own lives and our bodies and the players deserve that. We all deserve that. And that's something that we will fight for," she said.
Several NWSL stars and Olympians, including Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, criticized the League's alleged response to the Paul Riley allegations. Morgan claimed on Thursday that the League knew about the allegations and refused "multiple times to investigate." On Friday, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned from her post.
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