Washington Spirit majority owner Steve Baldwin has announced his resignation as CEO and managing partner of the NWSL club. The news comes just over a week after Spirit co-owner Y. Michele Kang asked majority owner Baldwin to sell the team. In a letter to investors, she referred to the culture of “toxic” clubs and promised reforms once she was in charge.
The Letter is the latest domino to fall in a period of several months and has seen the Spirit organization endure multiple overlapping off-screen crises, which has sparked an investigation by the NWSL, which is also facing a reshuffle following Lisa Baird’s resignation. as a commissioner amid an explosive report detailing the sexual misconduct of North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley resulting from the power imbalance between him and his players.
The Spirit suffered the sudden departure of a manager, several female front office staff left the team, a COVID-19 outbreak that saw the team lose two matches and a public dispute within the squad of property. If this all sounds like a lot to follow, well, it is. So, for clarity, let’s take a look at the timeline of the Washington Spirit’s controversial final weeks.
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What happened to the Washington Spirit?
August 10: The Washington Spirit announced in a now deleted press release that head coach Richie Burke was stepping down due to health concerns.
August 11: After the Washington post publishes report on Burke with allegations of creating a toxic environment, verbal abuse and racist comments, the Spirit announces that an investigation into the allegations is underway.
August 19: Spirit announced a partnership with Intellibridge, a defense contractor for homeland security and law enforcement who would be the primary sponsor of the jersey. The news is not received positively by main fans.
21st of August : Spirit of Washington and President of business operations Lindsey Barenz reportedly split after participating in the ongoing Burke investigation and raising concerns about the recent sponsorship of IntelliBridge.
August 29: The Rose Room Collective, a group of Spirit and DC United supporters who define themselves as a collective of intersectional POC football supporters – displayed a “Sell the Team, Steve” banner during the August 29 game against North Carolina Courage. The Spirit asks Rose Room to remove the banner.
The match was also a service member appreciation night with a distinguished guest retired Air Force General Michael Hayden, a choice that once again was not well received by Spirit’s fan base, due to Hayden’s history of being accused of lying to Congress In regards to the use of torture by the CIA.
August 30: Additional report of the Washington post describes a power struggle between owners Y. Michele Kang and Steve Baldwin and details an agreement for Baldwin to sell his shares to Kang (referenced in Monday’s letter from Kang). The report says Baldwin ultimately backed down to resist the eviction.
September 2: Washington Spirit is hiring former DC United player and head coach Ben Olsen as the team’s president of operations. Olsen has no experience in women’s football and has links to minority owner Devin Talbott and his company Enlightenment Capital.
September 4: The team’s game against the Portland Thorns is initially postponed due to four positive cases of COVID-19 within the Spirit, with sources claiming there are up to eight unvaccinated players on the squad.
September 4: Further speculation regarding COVID-19 protocols on the Spirit surface after a local DC-area sports radio host tweeted that a dumpling-making party hosted by Kang under investigation by the league as the reason for the outbreak. Athletic later reports that Spirit CEO Larry Best has filed a lawsuit against Kang with the league.
September 10: Former Washington Spirit player Kaiya McCullough released a podcast episode and a video blog detailing the toxic environments around the Washington Spirit.
September 11th : The Spirit lost a match against OL Reign thanks to a breach of medical protocol, with confirming reports that during the COVID-19 outbreak, the team did not follow protocols, including reports of a player traveling out of the market and failing to quarantine after travel.
September 23: The Washington Post confirms that several women have left senior positions and that more female executives have resigned, with three of the five female department heads leaving the team in September.
September 23: The official Spirit fan group is issuing a statement detailing its dissatisfaction with the club’s current state and that it plans to cut back its support. The group is also calling on Baldwin to sell the team.
September 24: The NWSL has granted a one-game suspension to Spirit player Devon Kerr for “failing to follow instructions from team staff”. Kerr is responding via social media to suspicions that link her to the recent COVID-19 outbreak at the club.
September 26: The Washington Spirit is finally back in the regular season after almost a month of absence and two forfeits. The team defeats Kansas City NWSL and remains in the playoff position.
September 26: During the Spirit vs. Kansas City game, play-by-play announcers say the investigations into Washington Spirit and Richie Burke are complete and more information will be announced the following week.
September 27: Kang sends a letter to Spirit’s fan base and its co-owners with his letter calling on Baldwin to sell the team amid the constant turmoil around the franchise.
September 28: After a third-party investigation into the allegations against Burke and the Washington Spirit, the NWSL announces sanctions which consist of an official dismissal of Burke for cause regarding allegations of violations of the league’s anti-harassment policy. Additional consequences imposed on the franchise included a ban on Spirit from all matters of Orderly League governance with immediate effect and a 14-day deadline to respond to violations.
September 28: Further information from the Washington Post after the announcement of the resolution of the NWSL investigation was published indicates that Baldwin “swapped the rage” of players he considered disloyal, further detailing reports of a toxic culture . Baldwin responded, denying that he “traded rage” and identifying the players as Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle.
October 5: Majority owner and CEO, Steve Baldwin is officially resigning from his post. Baldwin’s resignation letter, posted on the official team Twitter account, points out that the current club president, Ben Olsen, will have full authority over the club’s operations at that time.
October 5: Baldwin’s resignation statement released while the players were training and new reports are surfacing that his resignation has spearheaded current Spirit players. A letter signed by 27 players was issued to Baldwin, calling for his resignation.
October 5: Washington Spirit players issue statement on Baldwin’s resignation. The players say it’s clear they don’t trust Baldwin or the current leadership being put in place for the club’s future, and want the franchise to be led by Y. Michele Kang.