After weeks of calls from fans around NWSL to sell his stake in the Washington Spirit, Steve Baldwin has released a statement via the club’s social media saying that he has resigned as the Spirit’s CEO and Managing Partner.
The statement reads as follows:
Dear Spirit Family,
In recent days, I have spent a lot thinking about the future of the Washington Spirit and the vision I laid out just three years ago. I have also listened—to team leadership and staff, investors, fans and players—to concerns about the Spirit’s workplace culture and our prior coach’s conduct. 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. With that goal in mind, and at the recent request of our players, I have decided to resign as CEO and Managing Partner of the Washington Spirit, effective immediately. Club president Ben Olsen will have full authority over all club operations.
This was an extremely difficult decision for me. I have poured everything into building this club and care deeply for the players, staff and fan base. I have no doubt made some mistakes, but my efforts and focus were always on building a professional experience for our players, the club’s profile and the beautiful game in the DMV. I hope that stepping back removes me as a distraction and allows the club to thrive.
Baldwin’s statement does not clarify whether he plans to sell his stake in the team, which has been the focus of Spirit supporters in recent weeks. Earlier today, Pablo Maurer of The Athletic reported that Baldwin yesterday named a price at which he’d sell his 35% share in the Spirit to Y. Michele Kang (who, buying the full stake, would own 70% of the club).
The statement also alludes to a request from players. According to a report from Molly Hensley-Clancy at the Washington Post, the squad submitted a letter to Baldwin that included a demand that he step down as CEO and Managing Partner. However, according to The Athletic’s Meg Linehan, Baldwin’s statement does not answer everything the players asked for in their letter:
Reporting with @MLSist:— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) October 5, 2021
The players of the Washington Spirit are currently training and have yet to see Steve Baldwin’s statement. Sources told us that the players had sent a letter to Baldwin yesterday with asks, and believe today’s statement does not meet them. #NWSL
A new report at The Athletic went into further detail, noting that sources believe that Baldwin’s move today is “undermining” what the players demanded in their letter. The report also notes conclusions from the recent league investigation into the Spirit’s internal culture, including multiple violations of the league’s anti-harassment policy from Burke and former assistant coach Tom Torres, explosive new details alleging that the club “rage-traded” USWNT stars Rose Lavelle and Mal Pugh, issues with hiring Human Resources staff from Baldwin’s company Qbase, and claims that club President of Sporting Operations Larry Best helped create a difficult work environment for staffers that disagreed with the choices he and Baldwin made.
Spirit players responded en masse this evening, posting a statement across social media channels. Per the statement, Baldwin stepping down was not enough, and that they are calling on him to sell his stake in the club to Kang.
The full statement is as follows:
Today you stepped down as CEO and Managing Partner.
We are disappointed and frustrated that we received no direct response from you to our letter, or even an acknowledgement that you received it. We have shown incredible restraint by not commenting publicly on all the infractions committed by the club and abuse we have experienced. We were open and honest with you, after holding our voices for a long time.
In your statement, you declared your commitment to returning the focus to the players. 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. We realize some of your efforts may have been sincere, but that time is past.
Right now, as we look across the soccer landscape, packed with painful stories of sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and team mismanagement, we, along with our peers are suffering. We want to stand in solidarity with them, rather than being dragged into what appears to be an ego-driven battle. We would like for the focus to actually return to the players.
When we asked you to step aside, step back from management, we clearly meant you should not retain any management control. We are sure you understood that. 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. In your final act as Managing Partner, you passed the baton to someone you hired who has virtually no experience in the role you left him. We have no confidence in that management structure, especially on the soccer operations side, and we don’t have reason to believe that you won’t be involved. This is not a fresh start.
Let us be clear.
The person we trust is Michele. 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.
Please sell to Michele at a reasonable price and uphold your stated intention, in 2019, of donating any profit you see to the Maryland Soccer Foundation.
Baldwin’s departure from a day-to-day role at the Spirit comes amid a wave of player-driven change throughout the NWSL. After a devastating report detailing years of sexual coercion and misconduct at multiple clubs, NC Courage coach Paul Riley was fired, and US Soccer announced that his coaching licenses have been suspended. The aftermath of that report included commissioner Lisa Baird and league general counsel Lisa Levine both stepping down.
The Spirit have been in upheaval for nearly two months now after Hensley-Clancy’s report of abusive conduct from former coach Richie Burke. Former players, including the on-the-record account of Kaiya McCullough, detailed verbal abuse, a culture of fear, and racially insensitive remarks at the club. That eventually lead to Kang pushing to buy Baldwin out, with Kang saying in a statement to fans and investors that Baldwin had even committed to do so on August 13. It is also worth noting that Baldwin has publicly declared a “commitment to donate my economic proceeds to the Maryland Soccer Foundation when my interest in the Spirit is transitioned to someone else.”
Amid all of this, the Spirit have a crucial game against NJ/NY Gotham FC tomorrow night at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. The NWSLPA has said that while they have more demands of the league coming, players have agreed to go forward with tomorrow’s games. It is unclear what will happen with the slate of games from this past weekend, in which players informed the league of their intention to not play, leading to the league calling those games off.