Thoughts on the Spirit, and where the team goes from here — Alex Morgan’s comments from this weekend
The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, October 11, 2021
Lots has happened since I last posted, so I’ll try to round it all up here and talk about where teams go moving forward.
First off, on a personal note, the past 10 days have been really stressful, both from a work and personal standpoint. Issues of abuse, harassment, manipulation, coercion are just heavy. So I took off over the weekend and visited my baby girl Evelyn at college. I am so grateful for her because she keeps me balanced. Plus I mostly got off of Twitter! A good thing. Anyway, the overall message here, repeating what I said last week: Take care of yourself.
First off, I wanted to address the situation with the Spirit. If you haven’t read Molly Hensley-Clancy’s (@mollyhc) ongoing coverage of the situation, it’s well worth the subscription to the Washington Post.
A source tells me that two sponsors have withdrawn in the midst of the chaos, and another is on the bubble.
For everyone who hasn’t followed this closely, Spirit coach Richie Burke was fired for violating the team’s anti-harassment policy, and the team can no longer participate in league governance matters.
Supporters are calling on controlling owner Steve Baldwin to sell his interest in the team. The group said it would curtail certain gameday traditions, including chants, until changes are made.
“We have seen enough. It is past time,” The Spirit Squadron said in a social media post. “Sell the team, Steve.”
While Baldwin stepped down as CEO and managing partner, he has effectively refused to sell the team, or has made the asking price so prohibitive that a sale could never happen.
The players, meanwhile, have thrown their support behind co-owner Y. Michele Kang. My source told me that at one point there was thought to be an agreement from Baldwin to sell the team to Kang, and he rescinded it. The source says Baldwin has since imposed an asking price that is three times the value of the team — and he’d be willing to sell the team to an owner who would move it.
Aubrey Bledsoe addressed it this weekend in the postgame availability:
“We have made it very clear, the path forward for this team. We believe that Michele will be a great owner and continually put the players first. We made that very clear in our statement and unfortunately, I don’t think Steve is going to honor our demand or request. He that says he puts the players first, but I don’t know how he can do that when there’s a chance that we would be moving. That is not at all what this team wants.”
There is definitely a stalemate going on here, which is not good for the recovery of the team and the league, or the team for that matter. It oooozes with pettiness. I don’t know what it will take for Baldwin to sell, but at this point it seems like that’s the only way forward. We’ll have to see what happens.
Similarly, supporters were calling for the dismissal of Thorns general manager Gavin Wilkinson in light of his handling of Paul Riley’s tenure in Portland and how he responded to The Athletic over the allegations.
The Thorns players last Wednesday called on Wilkinson to be placed on administrative leave. He was, but only from duties connected to the Thorns, not the MLS side, the Timbers.
Meghan Klingenberg addressed the situation following last Wednesday’s game:
For the players. We’ve had a ton of discussions and we felt that it was appropriate that the GM ,Gavin, is on leave, while this happens. Honestly, we haven’t really talked about the Timber side. I don’t really think that’s our business. We just try and make sure that we’re representing the Thorns and this organization as best we can. And so for us we wanted to make sure that we there was accountability and fairness and this investigation is very thorough, and we feel that it should be swift and when we have the information that we need to have, then we can move forward with what we think is best.
Also, kudos to the players for keeping the survivors visible, especially Alex Morgan, who clearly worked with Mana Shim to help her find justice.
Amazing moment when Shim joined the Orlando Pride on field in the sixth minute this weekend.
In the meantime, the players are back on the field, and the playoff picture is shaping up. The Thorns and OL Reign have already clinched spots in the playoffs. Here’s Sandra Herrera breaking it down for CBS Sports.
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The Washington Post on the Spirit’s bid for the playoffs in the midst of turmoil.
Also in the Post, Kaiya McCollough’s excellent editorial.
Good story from Emily Caron about how NWSL’s sponsors are hanging with the league.
Meg Linehan and Pablo Maurer write about the Spirit’s woes for The Athletic.
Blair Kerkhoff writes for the Kansas City Star about Vlatko Andonovski’s reaction to all of this.
Britni de la Cretaz for NBC looks at an issue in the harassment scandal that is not receiving enough attention: homophobia.
Heartbreaking: Rachel Daly is also dealing with the death of her father, from Corey Roepken for the Houston Chronicle.
Kavitha Davidson with an excellent column for The Athletic about why following the men’s model for sports isn’t working for the women.
Caitlin Murray for ESPN on how the league keeps failing its players.
D.C. United players pledge to be allies for the Washington Spirit.
My story for AP on how players returned to the field looking to reclaim their sport.
AP Story on Lisa De Vanna’s claims of bullying and harassment in Australia.
AP’s story on the abuse allegations within the Venezuelan federation.
Jeff Kassouf look’s at the players’ emotional return to the field for The Equalizer.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
The IX Interview: What Alex Morgan said this weekend
Question: During that six minute moment, walking out there with Mana Shim, wondering if you could share kind of what that moment meant for you after everything that you guys have gone through together the last couple weeks.
Morgan: That moment was pretty heavy. I think like the whole match was heavy, and obviously it was just amazing to have Mana here, just to be able to, to be with her during this time. And just to be able to show our support for her. It was just a tough moment and a tough moment to continue playing soccer after.
Question: For that little kid, little boy or girl that looks up to you guys. What do you try to tell them about the way you guys have handled these last few weeks?
Morgan: I think it’s just important to note that we have stood up to the failures of our employers or the people that have put things in place for us — it wasn’t set up for success. For for us players all we want to do is, is play the best soccer in the U.S. We want to play soccer for a job, we want to love playing it too. That’s just not the case when you’re being pulled away from that because of those failures, because players careers have ended due to harassment or abuse to certain levels. So as tough as it is to feel like you’re pulled away from soccer due to that, I think as much support as we can give for the women who have endured that and who are enduring that right now is extremely important. It’s important for us to stand up for ourselves, and to be vocal about it. I think that’s kind of what we’ve showed in the last two weeks. It’s something that I’m really proud to be a part of because I think that the players have been more unified than ever before in these last nine years, and I hope that really positive change comes out of it. I’m really optimistic with how the players have responded. But there’s also so much work to do. So I hope that you know in the future we’re set up for success.
Question: It’s clear from the reports that you’ve been advocating for this issue behind the scenes for a long time. What made this the right moment come forward, to go public and use your platform for this issue.
Morgan: Mana’s story, and, and the harassment she endured, was something that I needed to get direction from her. All I wanted to do was support her and amplify her voice in the biggest way possible. And when she was ready to tell that story, because the league had failed her previously, and because Paul was still coaching in this league, and because there wasn’t change due to her complaint, and because the policy only got implemented in the beginning of this year, she was ready to do that. She felt like she had no choice. So when she decided to go public with her story we put the wheels in motion and I just did everything I can help amplify her voice. And it ended up being this time, two weeks ago, however it’s been a year in the making of talking to legal counsel and really giving us guidance on that because as much as people think that you should be giving guidance on this and maybe we should know the right path to take on these things, there was nothing set up for us to be given guidance so we had to seek that out and it took longer than anticipated. But I’m really proud of the courage that she showed and the support that the players in this league have given her.
Question: What do you think are the most important next steps that you want to see out of the league and also the club here in Orlando?
Morgan: I think first of all the CBA is extremely important. It protects players, and it gives the players an equal voice at the table. I think more robust policies are important. The first policy in place to protect players was implemented earlier this year, nine years after the start of the NWSL. And then I think that the investigations need to be the priority, and with the conclusions of that, whenever that is based on the timeline, there needs to be change within the NWSL and possible owners or our people within each organization, due to those investigations. So obviously that’ll take time. Lastly I think the NWSL needs more people in the room to to brainstorm, whether that be a board of five to 10 people or something. Unfortunately there was only Lisa Baird and Lisa Levine and that wasn’t enough brains in the room to come up with adequate responses, statements, and just proactiveness by the league. So I just hope for a bigger league presence that oversees the owners, because right now the owners are directing the league and we just need a league set up, a front office set up, that can listen to the players and and implement change that way, and set up a league that’s successful, in the U.S. And then just just protect the players.
Question: Mentally, how do you describe what it was like to play in this game given everything surrounding it.
Morgan: It’s really tough to play in a game with bigger things at hand right now. People’s lives, careers, have been taken away from them. Mental health is a hot topic right now and I think a lot of players in this league are suffering. Not even if they were a victim of harassment or abuse, they either saw it, heard it, or were a part of a league that allowed it. And I think that that weighs heavy on everyone. It’s tough because we’re fighting for a playoff position right now. And it’s my mind is in a lot of different spaces. So I think it’s hard and I think every player feels that.
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