(Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos)

In her first public comments since coming forward as one of the players verbally abused by former-Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke, Jenna Hellstrom is lifting the curtains on what happened during her time in the NWSL.

Speaking with TSN, Hellstrom says that she can’t see herself ever returning to the NWSL after having played just one season in Washington under Burke. Currently, Hellstrom plays for KIF Orebro DFF in Sweden and as a forward on the Canadian national team.

Hellstrom admits that she struggled with coming forward publicly, but wants other Canadian athletes to feel like they can come forward.

In the article, Burke details one instance in which Burke singled her out in practice in the lead up to her debut game. During practice, Hellstrom allowed a player to score on her. She says that Burke screamed at her, “If that happens in the game, you’re never going to play for me.”

Hellstrom recalls feeling nervous, with Burke’s comments heightening her anxiety. Then, as she was about to be subbed into the game, Hellstrom says Burke told her, “If you make an attacking run and they score – that’s on you. You’re going to lose the game for us.

“I was feeling anxiety,” she told TSN. “I never felt anxiety ever in my life. I just felt so much pressure in my chest.”

A player with the team, who chose to remain anonymous, confirmed to TSN that Hellstrom seemed to be visibly shaken by Burke’s comments.

“[She] seemed to be physically struggling, like she couldn’t catch her breath or something,” they said.

Kaiya McCullough, who came forward publicly in the initial Washington Post story, discussed the incident with TSN.

“He wasn’t giving her any room to breathe, basically,” McCullough said. “And you can see her sort of spiraling on the field. I think everybody who knew Richie knew that he wasn’t going to let up.

“It was like watching a car crash – you knew what was going to happen, but there wasn’t really anything you could do about it.”

After the game, as Hellstrom was conversing with another Spirit player, Burke — upon noticing the conversation — interrupted and began to yell at Hellstrom. According to TSN, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed these reports.

Burke allegedly told Hellstrom, “You’re selfish. You took [one of our players] away from our first win… You’re never going to make Canada again. You’re not mentally tough.” According to Hellstrom, Burke berated her for close to 30 minutes following the game.

Hellstrom also details a separate instance in which she was late returning to the team for training due to her grandmother passing away. Upon her return to play, she says Burke said to her, “Okay, you were just on a six-week vacation. Let’s see what you got.”

“Who says that to a player?” Hellstrom said. “It wasn’t a vacation. It was watching my grandma die.”

Despite reporting her experiences in the league’s end-of-the-year survey, Hellstrom says she never heard anything from the league.

In response to a request for comment, Burke made his first public comments regarding the saga in a text message to TSN:

“It was clear that Jenna Hellstrom didn’t like me & I couldn’t stand her either. I couldn’t wait to get her out of the club because she was a cancer in the dressing room. She’d constantly make snarky comments at training & was influencing other players negatively.”

McCullough, however, denies this claim, calling Jenna a “very positive influence around everybody.”

“I tried to move her in several trades,” Burke continued. “But no one was interested in including her in exchange for other players,”

In a separate text, Burke said that the investigation done by independent parties “could NOT SUBSTANTIATE ANY CLAIMS OF VERBAL ABUSE MADE BY PLAYERS IN 2020.”

“I’ve been hounded out of a job, lost my reputation & income & falsely accused by players with an axe to grind,” he said.

Upon conclusion of the league’s independent investigation in September, Burke was fired by the league ”for cause” and is not allowed to work with any NWSL players.