Washington Spirit players demand Steve Baldwin sell the team


Washington Spirit players came together on social media Tuesday, penning a letter to co-owner Steve Baldwin demanding he sell the team, hours after he announced his resignation as CEO and managing partner.

The Spirit have been at the center of the NWSL’s league-wide reckoning over player rights this season, with multiple reports detailing a culture of harassment and toxicity for women within the club.

“We are disappointed and frustrated that we received no direct response from you to our letter, or even acknowledgment that you received it,” the players wrote.

They referenced Baldwin’s letter of resignation, in which he expressed the hope that “stepping back removes me as a distraction and allows the club to thrive.”

“Returning to our phones post training with yet another news story about our club is a distraction to our game preparation, our season and our careers,” read the players’ statement. “We realize some of your efforts may have been sincere, but that time is past.

“We would like for the focus to actually return to the players.”

They said that they had asked Baldwin to step aside in their initial letter and that it “clearly meant you should not retain any management control.”

“You still have a firm grip as majority owner on the decisions that need to be made at the club even if they are made from behind a veil,” they continued.

The players added that they have no confidence in the club’s new president, Ben Olsen. Baldwin’s decision to hire Olsen in September and Olsen’s first interview in the role prompted widespread backlash.

“You passed the baton to someone you hired who has virtually no experience in the role you left to him,” the players wrote. “We don’t have reason to believe that you won’t be involved. This is not a fresh start.”

The players concluded the letter by calling on Baldwin to sell the team to Y. Michele Kang. The co-owners have reportedly been fighting for control of the team since August.

“The person we trust is Michele,” they wrote. “She continuously puts players’ needs and interests first. She listens. She believes that this can be a profitable business and you have always said you intended to hand the team over to female ownership. That moment is now.”

The team also asked that Baldwin uphold his stated intention of donating any profits to the Maryland Soccer Foundation.

The Spirit have had a tumultuous couple of months. In August, the team announced that head coach Richie Burke would be stepping down to work in the team’s front office. A day later, players accused Burke of verbal and emotional abuse in a scathing Washington Post report. Washington then fired Burke and the NWSL launched an investigation into the team.

In late September, multiple people accused the Spirit of fostering a toxic working environment for women in another Post report. A little over a week ago, the NWSL concluded its expanded investigation, issuing a violation notice to the Spirit and forcing them to respond within 14 days. The league also ruled that the Spirit are not allowed to participate in league governance matters for the foreseeable future.

In the aftermath, many — including Kang — have called on Baldwin to sell the team. This is the first time Spirit players have spoken out publicly about Baldwin and the events of the past few months.

The conflict in Washington comes amid much turmoil in the NWSL. Last week, The Athletic detailed allegations of sexual coercion and emotional abuse against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley. The next day, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned and the NWSL, FIFA and US Soccer each opened investigations into Riley and other allegations of misconduct within the league.