05 Oct NWSL resumes play, Spirit’s Steve Baldwin resigns amid abuse scandal
The NWSL players association said games will resume Wednesday, while the embattled CEO and managing partner of the Washington Spirit announced his resignation.
The moves come as the league continues to navigate the fallout from last week’s report by The Athletic that a now-former coach had emotionally abused and sexually coerced his players. This followed a report by the Washington Post on the toxic culture at the Spirit, which resulted in the firing of coach Richie Burke.
Former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned under pressure Friday night, hours after the league agreed to not play games over the weekend.
“We have taken the weekend’s pause to evaluate. We acknowledge that we will not process the pain of the last several days in one weekend or one week,” the NWSLPA said in a statement Tuesday. “We have made the decision to proceed with Wednesday night’s scheduled competition, but our demands will be forthcoming.”
In his statement, Spirit CEO and managing partner Steve Baldwin said he was stepping down “at the recent request of our players.”
“I have no doubt made some mistakes,” said Baldwin, who also owns the Spirit. “I hope that stepping back removes me as a distraction and allows the club to thrive.
Baldwin said Ben Olsen, who was recently appointed president of the Spirit despite not having any experience in the women’s game, will have “full authority” over the team. Baldwin made no mention of whether he planned to sell the team.
The NWSL has been reeling since the report by The Athletic, which detailed patterns of sexual misconduct, harassment and coercion by Paul Riley while he was coach of Western New York and the Portland Thorns.
Riley was fired by the Thorns in 2015 after an internal investigation of complaints about inappropriate behavior with players found “clear violations of our company policies.” But he was hired by the North Carolina Courage, and won NWSL titles in 2018 and 2019.
Riley was fired by the Courage on Thursday. U.S. Soccer stripped him of his coaching license, and the U.S. Center for SafeSport has temporarily suspended him while it investigates the misconduct allegations against him.
But Riley’s case was just the latest to call into question the NWSL’s commitment to the safety and well-being of its players. Earlier last week, the NWSL had banned Burke and barred Baldwin from participating in league governance matters while it investigated reports of abuse and toxic culture at the Spirit.
The OL Reign also confirmed Friday that it had dismissed coach Farid Benstiti after he made “comments regarding nutrition and fitness” to players. The Reign had hired Benstiti despite World Cup champion Lindsey Horan’s allegations that he and his staff had body shamed her and monitored her eating when she played at Paris Saint-Germain.
U.S. Soccer has hired former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to conduct an independent investigation into “allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women’s professional soccer.” Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kramer, meanwhile, will review practices and policies of both the NWSL and its teams, and work with the players association to ensure there is a safe environment for players.
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