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Jenna Hellstrom details Richie Burke abuse as former Spirit coach calls her a ‘cancer’

(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.

The Late Sub Podcast: Can the USWNT Medal?

The USWNT takes a silly face photo during their team Olympic photo shoot
The USWNT will begin their 2024 Olympic medal hunt on Thursday. (Brad Smith/ISI/Getty Images).

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins discusses WNBA All-Star Weekend, which felt both like a celebration of the league's explosive growth over the past year and a way to set Team USA up for a particularly competitive Summer Olympics.

Later, Watkins previews the field for the upcoming Olympic soccer tournament, nominating her personal "Group of Death" and discussing whether or not the new-era USWNT could still reach medal contention despite their current rebuild under new head coach Emma Hayes.

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Team USA, Germany Play Pre-Olympic Exhibition Game in London

Team USA's 5x5 Basketball Team stands for the National Anthem before Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game
Team USA looks to rebound from Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game loss in an exhibition against Germany today. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

USA Basketball's 5x5 team will tip off in an exhibition against Germany in London this afternoon, getting in one last tune-up before the Summer Olympics begin.

The US is hunting an eighth-straight gold medal this year, with group stage play starting on July 29th.

Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to face Germany in pre-Olympic exhibition.
Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to take on Germany in London. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

US to use All-Star loss as fuel

Coming off the weekend's All-Star Game loss, the Olympians are ready to repeat history: They earned their Tokyo gold medal immediately after losing the first Team USA vs. Team WNBA All-Star Game back in 2021.

Breanna Stewart, who led Team USA with a 31-point, 10-rebound double-double on Saturday, said that the defeat "is going to help us tremendously. We don’t get that many game opportunities, [and now] we can go back and watch the film and focus on how we can continue to be better."

Today’s tilt against Germany will see the US work to lock in their defense, particularly in the paint. They'll also lean into their positional versatility before heading to Paris.

WNBA pro Satou Sabally leads Team Germany in today's pre-Olympic exhibition game against Team USA.
WNBA pro Satou Sabally helped Germany to their first-ever Olympic berth. (Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Olympic debutants Germany enter first US clash

The exhibition marks the first-ever US-Germany linkup. The German team will make their Olympic debut in Paris after decades of failing to qualify for major international competitions. Their sixth-place 2023 EuroBasket finish sent them into February’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where they punched their ticket to the 2024 Games.

Leading Germany's run was two-time WNBA All-Star Satou Sabally, who put up career-high averages in points, rebounds, assists, and steals with Dallas last season. Her 20-point, 11-rebound double-double was the difference-maker in Germany's must-win 73-71 Olympic qualifying victory over Brazil.

Other German players to watch include 2022 NY Liberty draft-pick — and Sabally's sister — Nyara Sabally, along with Liberty sharpshooter Leonie Fiebich.

Where to watch the Team USA vs. Germany game

Today’s exhibition tips off at 3 PM ET with live coverage on FS1.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: USWNT Star Jaedyn Shaw Is Expecting “Dubs All Around”

retired uswnt star kelley o'hara interviewing san diego wave and uswnt forward jaedyn shaw
'1v1' is back with Jaedyn Shaw joining Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, San Diego Wave and USWNT star Jaedyn Shaw joins two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from the 19-year-old Wave FC phenom about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her experience with international competition at this point in her young career, and how she's preparing to take on the 2024 Summer Games.

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The 91st: Complete USWNT & Olympic Soccer Preview Featuring Jess McDonald

Logo for JWS USWNT Olympic show The 91st
The latest season of JWS' awarding-winning Olympics show 'The 91st' premieres today. (Just Women's Sports)

We're back! Hosts Jordan Angeli, Duda Pavao, and retired USWNT forward Jess McDonald deliver a full preview of this year's Olympic soccer tournament in Paris.

Watch for full analysis of USWNT manager Emma Hayes's coaching style, this team's shifting identity in this new USWNT era, and a projected starting XI for the team's group stage opener against Zambia. The 91st hosts also break down all three Olympic groups — including top players and teams to track throughout the tournament — plus give their predictions for the medal rounds and individual awards.

Subscribe to Just Women's Sports on YouTube to never miss an episode.

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