Washington Spirit players call for owner to sell following resignation

Washington Spirit majority owner Steve Baldwin said he is resigning as CEO and managing partner of the club immediately, according to an announcement on the team’s Twitter account.

In the statement, Baldwin, who purchased the team in 2019, said he has spend recent days thinking about the Spirit’s future and the “the vision I laid out just three years ago.” Ultimately, he said he decided to resign at the request of players and to avoid becoming a distraction.

“While there is a range of opinions on how we got here, and how to move forward, everyone — none more so than me — is committed to improving the club’s culture, removing distractions and returning the focus to the players and the pursuit of a championship,” Baldwin wrote.

Baldwin said Ben Olsen, who was recently hired as club president, will have authority over all team operations going forward. Baldwin did not say whether he would sell his controlling interest in the club.

“This was an extremely difficult decision for me,” Baldwin said. “I have poured everything into building this club and care deeply for the players, staff and fan base.”

The club has been under fire following a Washington Post investigation revealing verbal and emotional abuse toward players by former head coach Richie Burke. Baldwin suspending Burke following the story’s publication, and the National Women’s Soccer League announced an investigation into Burke and allegations of team management fostering a toxic work environment for female employees.

The league concluded its investigation last week, firing and banning Burke “with cause” and barring Spirit representatives in participating in “league governance matters.”

Without stating the investigation’s findings directly in his statement, Baldwin said he has “no doubt made some mistakes” during his tenure, but his focus was to establish a professional experience for Spirit players.

Following his resignation, Spirit players, including team captain Andi Sullivan and U.S. Women’s National Team defender Kelley O’Hara, tweeted out a joint statement, saying Baldwin must now sell the team.

The statement also said that while some of his work as owner may have been sincere, “that time is past.”

“When we asked you to step aside, step back from management, we clearly meant you should not retain any management control,” the statement said. ” … 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.”

The players are asking for Baldwin to sell to Y. Michelle Kang, the founder and CEO of health care consulting provider Cognosante, who purchased a minority share in the team last year. They asked that he sell to Kang at a “reasonable price,” and to uphold his intention of donating any profits from the sale to the Maryland Soccer Foundation.

The players join the Spirit’s official supporters’ group, the Spirit Squadron, who had called for Baldwin to sell his interest in the team. The group said it would curtail certain game-day traditions, including chants, until changes were made.

Baldwin’s resignation was also the latest response to a string of scandals to hit the National Women’s Soccer League, the top women’s professional soccer league in the U.S. Most recently, the league was rocked by sexual harassment and misconduct allegations involving longtime coach Paul Riley, a situation that prompted Commissioner Lisa Baird to resign Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jose Umana

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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