NWSL: Washington Spirit needed to clean house yesterday

Photo Credit: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

WNBA fans reading plenty of the drama as of late that has engulfed the NWSL’s Washington Spirit have to be thinking that they thought the Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream had issues with its respective front offices.

Apparently the issues in Dallas and Atlanta with their WNBA teams are nothing compared to the scandal-worthy mess involving the Spirit. Maybe Ted Leonsis needs to buy the Spirit and bring them into the Monumental Sports and Entertainment umbrella where the Washington Mystics (and Wizards and Capitals) currently reside.

Washington’s most recent match was at home vs. Kansas City’s team which saw the Spirit earn a 2-1 victory. It was the first game the Spirit had played in almost a month. Andi Sullivan and Tara McKeown tallied the scores for Washington.

WNBA fans may also be somewhat familiar with Kansas City’s NWSL team given its Chief Operating Officer is Amber Cox, the former sports vice president of Mohegan Sun (Connecticut Sun).

The game was also played at Segra Field in Leesburg, Virginia. Kelley O’Hara, a name familiar to USWNT fans, also plays for the Spirit.

It all began last month when the Spirit had announced that former head coach Richie Burke was resigning from his post because of health reasons. Interestingly enough, that post was since deleted by Spirit public relations because a Washington Post report detailed what had to be considered the real reason for why Burke stepped down.

Burke obviously knew the Post’s expose was on its way – and it was a damning piece that detailed how Burke had fostered a toxic culture within the Spirit – including racist comments and coarse verbal abuse. Molly Hensley-Clancy wrote the article for the Washington Post.

One of the more eye-opening parts of Hensley-Clancy and Steven Goff’s article for the Washington Post was how Burke was alleged to have done something similar when he was coaching soccer at the youth level, but how the transgressions went virtually unchecked by the Spirit organization.

There was also a controversial sponsorship with a defense contractor that works with law enforcement – in similar fashion to when the Wings put out its since-deleted “Blocks for the Blue” initiative in tandem with the Jim Ross Law Group, a core sponsor of the Wings.

Supporters of the Spirit have been vocal in their view that current owner Steven Baldwin needs to sell the team. In fact, co-owner Y. Michelle Kang recently wrote a letter to Spirit investors calling for Baldwin to sell his majority stake in the Washington franchise.

Whenever an organization has all of the issues that the Spirit has had, the problems go directly to the top. And in this case, the top of the organization is Baldwin because he was the one who signed off on the Burke hire which started the downward spiral the Spirit have been in ever since.

The miraculous backstory to the Spirit’s ongoing controversies is despite everything happening away from the soccer pitch, Washington still remains in position to potentially advance to the NWSL playoffs. The victory the Spirit earned over Kansas City was major in the Spirit’s quest for a playoff berth.

But even with that playoff berth if the Spirit do clinch it, the story will still be what is happening away from the pitch. Burke may be gone, but it is clear that the toxic culture fostered by Burke still remains with the Spirit – and will continue to remain unless a lot of house cleaning is done.

And if that house cleaning will not be done by the Spirit organization itself, the NWSL and its commissioner Lisa Baird need to step in and do it for the Washington NWSL team that has not exactly been living up to its namesake from an organizational perspective.

The lack of action from the Spirit on how to address its issues is exactly what causes fans to dial back support for not only a team, but for a league. The NWSL is a fledgling league with aspiration of trying to become as successful as the WNBA has been for 25 seasons and controversies like this are not exactly the best way to foster trust within a fanbase, especially in such a progressive area as Washington’s is.

It was announced that the NWSL investigation into the Spirit has concluded and that information is expected to be released next week. Let us hope that the info that gets released as a result of that league probe will cleanse the Spirit of its tumultuous past.

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