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NWSL reportedly investigating Washington Spirit’s ‘old boys’ club’

Boyds, MD - Saturday May 6, 2017: Cheyna Williams prior to a regular season National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) match between the Washington Spirit and Sky Blue FC at Maureen Hendricks Field, Maryland SoccerPlex.

The Washington Spirit are once again making headlines.

Over a month after the Spirit fired head coach Richie Burke amid allegations of verbal and emotional abuse and the NWSL launched an investigation into the club, a new report says the problems run much deeper. According to the Washington Post, the NWSL has widened its investigation into the Spirit to include allegations of a “toxic work culture for female employees.”

Four people with knowledge of the investigation told the Post that employees have said that the culture is essentially an “old boys’ club,” where the use of degrading nicknames for female players and staff is accepted.

In early August, the Post reported that many players had left the team because of Burke’s behavior. It later reported that assistant coach Tom Torres’ departure from the club last summer was also due to inappropriate conduct.

In recent months, the Spirit’s lone female assistant coach and three of its most senior female executives — including its two senior Black female staffers — have left their jobs. And after the allegations against Burke were made public, two more female employees departed. With another female executive resigning Thursday, according to Molly Hensley-Clancy of the Post, 40 percent of the female employees listed on the Spirit’s website have left since June.

According to documents reviewed by The Post, Spirit employees in May raised concerns about sexism and a lack of female representation in the organization.

Eight women who work or have worked for the Spirit, as well as three current and former players, spoke on the condition of anonymity to the Post. In discussions, they said they had been subjected to a workplace culture that was toxic for women and, in particular, women of color.

Female employees described being “stonewalled hard” when trying to push against the status quo. They also said female executives were routinely shut out of important decisions, such as being told of meetings they should have been included in after the fact.

Often, women were passed over for jobs that were then given to men, the report says.

“As a woman, I got my ideas stolen from me. Men would take credit for my ideas,” one current Spirit employee told the Post. “I’m very qualified for my job, but I absolutely wasn’t appreciated.”

The Post has also reported that Y. Michele Kang and CEO Steve Baldwin were fighting for control of the club. Shortly thereafter, the Spirit were forced to forfeit two regular season games due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team.

In early September, the Spirit named Ben Olsen team president. Baldwin reportedly made the hire while Kang was left in the dark.

According to the most recent report, Kang’s title on the Spirit’s website has changed from “Owner” to “Equity Partner.”

The Spirit Squadron, the Spirit’s official fan club, has since responded to the fallout, calling on Baldwin to sell the team.