A day after citing health concerns in resigning from his post, former Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke was placed on administrative leave Wednesday amid reports he verbally abused players on the professional women’s soccer team.
The Washington Post published a story Wednesday detailing the language and verbal abuse Burke used against his players, resulting in four players leaving the team during his tenure.
“We take these allegations very seriously and are undertaking an immediate investigation. Burke has been suspended pending the investigation and is prohibited from contacting players and staff and our facilities,” Steve Baldwin, the owner of the Spirit, in a statement. “We, as a team, will not tolerate any situation for our players and staff that is less than professional.”
In the Post’s story, Kaiya McCullough, a former Spirit defender, talked about the emotional abuse she endured while playing for Burke.
“He created this environment where I knew I wasn’t playing as well, because I was so, so scared to mess up and be yelled at,” McCullough told the Post. “It crippled my performance, and it made me super anxious.”
McCullough didn’t appear in a game for Washington during her tenure, less than a year, with the team. She told the Post that her release was “mutual,” but part of her reasoning to leave was Burke’s treatment.
Three other unnamed players shared similar complaints with paper.
McCullough also said she was frustrated with the organization’s failure to support her and other Black players.
This isn’t the first time Burke has been accused of verbal abuse. Shortly after the Spirit hired Burke in 2019, multiple players from D.C. United’s U-23 team reported they experienced the abuse while he was on the coaching staff of the squad.
Though the Spirit backed Burke at the time, telling the Post that the team “investigated the matter and determined no action was necessary,” the accusations are similar.
McCullough talked about how he singled out players and used offensive language toward them. She also said he used racially insensitive remarks and slurs, not directed at her, but in her presence.
In the 2019 accusation, an anonymous player talked about how Burke used phrases such as “pathetic” and “moron,” but he also allegedly used homophobic insults toward players.
Following the story published Wednesday, McCullough posted a statement to her Twitter.
“This is probably the most terrified I’ve been about something in a long time,” McCullough tweeted. “It’s taken me a year to process, but I’m grateful for the strength I’ve found during this year to get where I’m at.
“I’m a firm believer that speaking out when things are wrong and unjust is the only way forward, and my hope is that this is the first step in serious change for players everywhere,” she continued.
Burke stepped down from his position Tuesday, citing “health concerns.” The team re-assigned him to a front-office role, from which he‘s currently on administrative leave.
The team declined to comment when the Post asked if they’ve received similar complaints about Burke before Wednesday’s story. The NWSL told the newspaper that it did not receive any complaints about the former coach.