In abuse fallout, Baldwin to sell NWSL’s Spirit

In addition to announcements of new operating procedures and investigations, one tangible change on tap for the NWSL: A potential Washington Spirit sale, with Steve Baldwin reportedly selling his share.

Though many of the initial allegations of sexual abuse and harassment were related to the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns, other teams were accused of fostered a hostile environment. Those teams included the Spirit, where coach Richie Burke was dismissed this season after accusations of verbal and emotional abuse from Spirit players. In addition, men in the front office were accused by women working for the Spirit of creating a hostile environment in the form of a “old boys’ club”–certainly a common development in professional sports.

While Baldwin initially declared he would step down as CEO and managing partner, he now says he will sell his share of the team, per an email obtained by the Washington Post:

“I have heard the calls for change. I understand that many of our fans, players, and investors feel that the club requires new leadership, direction, and energy. And I agree,” Baldwin wrote in the email.

Baldwin did not name a specific buyer or say that one had been chosen, writing only that “a sale process for the club has commenced in earnest” — despite explicit calls from Spirit players that he agree to sell the team to his female co-owner, Y. Michele Kang. Baldwin said the process was “complicated” but that he expected it to be finished by the end of the year….

Baldwin said earlier this month that he planned only to “step back” from the club, ceding his role as CEO and managing partner but retaining his ownership stake. Spirit players responded to that announcement with an extraordinary public rebuke, criticizing Baldwin’s decision to keep “a firm grip as majority owner” and calling for him to sell the team to Kang, a health technology CEO.

Announced investigations into abuse and harassment could now expand to all 12 league teams per a request from the player union. With the end of the 2021 season at hand, this will be an important offseason for the NWSL, with a chance for the league to dictate changes, force personnel replacement and start the 2022 season with a clean slate. There has been considerably greater interest in women’s soccer in recent years, but a better environment for players–and public confidence in that environment–

RELATED STORIES: Executive committee to manage NWSL, oversee systematic transformation; Baird steps down as NWSL commissioner after Riley abuse allegations

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