When you hear the phrase “toxic workplace” in relation to a Washington D.C. sports team, your brain may immediately go to the Washington Commanders. While maybe rightfully so, that overshadows another D.C. team fighting to remove that label.
The 2021 NWSL season was tumultuous, to say the least. Partly because in 2021, allegations of abuse were made against the Washington Spirit head coach. The league had an outside firm conduct an investigation into the allegations, which eventually expanded to investigate the entire organization’s workplace culture under the CEO. When the investigation concluded that the Washington Spirit had a “toxic workplace.” The league stated, “The NWSL’s board of governors has determined that the Spirit and its ownership have failed to act in the best interests of the League.” Ultimately the head coach was fired, and the league suspended the organization from involvement in league business and its board of governors.
In the aftermath of the investigation, players made a statement requesting the CEO Steve Baldwin to step down. At the same time, Michelle Kang was working to try and buy Baldwin’s shares from him. The players would then express their support for Michelle Kang, requesting Steve Baldwin sell the team to her. And on March 30, 2022, the players got what they wanted, and the sale was made official. Yet, initial calls for Baldwin to sell the team occurred on October 5, 2021. So why did the sale take so long?
Once the allegations arose, Michelle Kang began working with other Spirit investors to try and buy the team from Baldwin. In September 2021, he had agreed to sell the team to Kang but then rescinded. Refusing to sell to her, he publicly Baldwin went so far as to pen an email to Spirit investors accusing Kang of organizing a “coup” against him and spreading misinformation in an attempt to wrestle control of the club away.
After turning down Kang’s offer of $35 million, Baldwin entered “exclusive negotiations” with Todd Boehly for an offer of $25 million. This obviously led to the ire of the other investors, including former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. Tom and other investors threatened legal action if Baldwin.
A letter from seventeen investors to Steve Baldwin said, “It is our collective position that the $35 million bid is so far superior that there is but one option worth pursuing.” The letter also said the investors “reserve all of their rights and remedies under the governing documentation and applicable state and federal law. Please consider this a collective notice and reservation of rights.” But now, the players and investors have gotten what they wanted, and the sale has been approved and finalized by the league.
The league is looking to improve and make forward progress in the shadow of the 2021 season. This is the third major move that shows the league’s hopes and intentions moving forward. The first was the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the second was the appointment of Jessica Berman as the new Commissioner. Both of which are moves that have been met with hopeful positivity. Hopefully, with the sale of the Washington Spirit, the league had an opportunity to look at their approval processes for areas of improvement to provide a safer and abuse-free environment for the players.
Emlyn Goodman is a 3L at University of Baltimore School of Law where she is a current student attorney in the Community Development Clinic. She can be found on Twitter @emlyngoodman and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/emlyn-goodman-b46113113/