- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Washington Spirit co-owner Steve Baldwin stepped down from his role of CEO and managing partner Tuesday after his players requested he resign following allegations that the team had an abusive and toxic workplace. 

The Spirit announced the move in a letter from Baldwin that was posted on social media. Last week, the National Women’s Soccer League banned former Spirit coach Richie Burke from the league after it concluded an investigation into allegations Burke verbally and emotionally abused players.

The NWSL said the Spirit failed to act “in the best interest of the league” and suspended the team from league business.

As the fallout happened, Spirit players reportedly penned a letter to Baldwin that called for his resignation. 

“This was an extremely difficult decision for me,” Baldwin wrote. “I have poured everything into this club and care deeply for the players, staff and fan base. I have no doubt made some mistakes, but my efforts and focus were always on building a professional experience for our players, the club’ profile and the beautiful game in the DMV. I hope that stepping back removes me as a distraction and allows the club to thrive.” 

Baldwin did not indicate whether he plans to sell his shares in the team. He said that club president Ben Olsen will have “full authority over all club operations.” 

Baldwin, who bought a controlling ownership stake of the Spirit in 2018, said he reached the decision to step away after listening to feedback from team leaders, staff, investors fans and players.

“While there is a range of opinion on how we got here, and how to move forward, everyone — none more so than me — is committed to improving the club’s culture, removing distractions and returning the focus to the players and the pursuit of a championship,” he wrote. 

Baldwin’s resignation comes as the NWSL has dealt with a reckoning over player treatment in recent weeks. Beyond the allegations in the District, former Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley was accused by players of sexual coercion — leading Commissioner Lisa Baird to resign. The league suspended games last weekend as the players’ union called for the league to end “systemic abuse plaguing the NWSL.”

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe wrote on Twitter: “Men, protecting men, who are abusing women. I’ll say it again, men, protecting men, who are ABUSING WOMEN. Burn it all down. Let their heads roll.”

The Washington Post reported 27 Spirit players signed off on the latter to Baldwin. The letter states that their “trust and faith in the organization” had been broken under Baldwin’s leadership. “We do not feel like we can recover from all that has been revealed in 2021,” the letter reads.

Over the past two seasons, four players reportedly left the Spirit due to Burke’s coaching style. The Post reported that players felt they were verbally and emotionally abused. The Spirit announced on Aug. 10 that Burke was stepping down as coach due to medical reasons and would be reassigned to a front-office position, but then said he was suspended while the league’s investigation took place.

Upon banning Burke, the NWSL did not release the full findings of the investigation. It said it would keep details confidential to protect the identity of those who came forward.

The Spirit are scheduled to play Wednesday against Gotham FC.

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