As the team heads back on the pitch for the resumption of the National Women’s Soccer League season after the international break, new details are coming to light regarding the multiple crises plaguing the Washington Spirit.
On September 22, Washington Post reporter Molly Hensley-Clancy, who initially broke the news of the abuse allegations against former coach Richie Burke, published a story which revealed that the NWSL is investigating a “toxic work culture” rife with institutionalized misogyny and racist comments by director of sporting operations Larry Best. Best, a close ally of embattled Spirit controlling owner Steve Baldwin, has recently been involved in the melee between Baldwin and minority owner Y. Michelle Kang, who owns the same share of the team as the controlling owner.
After the most recent Post article ran, the Spirit Squadron, a Spirit supporters group, echoed calls for Baldwin to sell the team and announced on Twitter they would cease certain matchday activities, including chants, the flying of flags and the playing of drums, “until new ownership publicly puts forth a plan that ensures a safe environment for players and staff, and commits to a true vetting process for hiring qualified employees at the highest level.” The Squadron and other Spirit supporters groups occupy the end zone of matches played at Audi Field and have been visible and audible on league broadcasts.
“We no longer have confidence that Steve Baldwin can effectively lead the Washington Spirit,” the Spirit Squadron’s statement read. “We understand that our actions will have an immediate and adverse effect on the atmosphere we help to create on gameday. However, we cannot continue to operate as if there is not a cancer eating away at the club that [the Spirit players] play for and that we love.”
The announcement was endorsed by other Spirit supporters groups, including the Rose Room Collective, which caused a stir when team officials requested its members to take down a large banner which read, “Sell the team, Steve,” at a previous home game.
According to the Post, there has been discord within the Spirit offices for at least several months over a sexist work culture which included degrading comments and leaving women out of decisions made by the club. It has been reported that Kang was left out of the hiring process that led to the appointment of former DC United star and head coach Ben Olsen as president. Several women with high profile jobs at the club have left their posts this season.
On the pitch, the Spirit are set to begin the final playoff push with a match against Kansas City on Sunday, September 26 at 5pm. As previously reported, the Spirit have forfeited their last two matches over breaches of medical protocols and multiple positive coronavirus tests. They enter the season’s final six matches in sixth place with 23 points — currently good for playoff position but with Houston and Gotham FC nipping at their heels.
Image credit- Rose Room Collective twitter