Women’s pro soccer team owner faces players’ union grievance
By Steven Goff,
The women’s pro soccer team in South Florida employs several of the U.S. stars from this summer’s World Cup, including Abby Wambach and Hope Solo, but the figure who has drawn much of the attention this season has been its owner, Dan Borislow.
As magicJack — which is named after Borislow’s broadband telephone device — enters the Women’s Professional Soccer playoffs this week, a cloud of contentiousness and uncertainty hovers over the club.
The team was formerly known as the Washington Freedom before the 49-year-old entrepreneur purchased it from Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks last fall and moved it from Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County to near his Palm Beach home.
The players’ union filed a grievance in July that accused Borislow of bullying and threatening players and creating a “hostile, oppressive and intimidating work environment.”
The union cited several e-mails attributed to Borislow that were relayed to the players through staff members’ accounts. The correspondence showed, according to the complaint, “Borislow’s clear failure to behave in a dignified manner.”
The union’s grievance, which was made public after the World Cup, spoke in general terms about the substance of Borislow’s e-mails, which were contained in an attachment to the complaint. The e-mails were not made public.
The Washington Post recently obtained copies of the e-mails, in which the author used coarse language, referred to “losers” on the team, called some players “socially and family inept” and banned players from posting updates on Twitter accounts after one particular defeat.
The day after a 3-0 loss to the Western New York Flash in May, the players received an e-mail saying: “You have no idea how you are going to get better, but I can tell you there’s only a couple ways. Play with the very best and act like them on and off the field. If you don’t do this, you are toast and will be playing in a rec league within years, drinking beer and farting after the game at a local bar and telling people how good you used to be at age 26.”
In an e-mail exchange with The Post on Monday, Borislow said he didn’t distribute e-mails to his players and said, “I believe e-mails might have been stolen from my account.”
A former magicJack staff member and player, Shannon Myers, from whose e-mail account many of the messages were sent, said she relayed the e-mails on Borislow’s behalf. The union said it vetted the e-mails’ origins.
“Some of the e-mails in question were sent from Borislow’s account and others from a former employee’s account at his demand,” union executive director Jennifer Hitchon said. “They were enclosed with the players’ union grievance as evidence of his misconduct. He had the opportunity to review and respond to the allegations as part of the WPS grievance process, and at the time he acknowledged the e-mails were his and made no pretense of denying them.”
Myers no longer works for the club. Borislow said she was dismissed because “she was working for the team, but got confused she was working for the players. She was told numerous times of her priorities and responsibilities.”
In a letter to Hitchon after the grievance was filed, Borislow demanded that “any confidential information belonging to our team” be destroyed, but never denied writing the e-mails to the players.
Borislow said in the e-mail exchange with The Post that “the real players didn’t file [the grievance], maybe it was just one or two players who were let go or do not play.”
Aside from the union’s complaint on behalf of the magicJack players, the league itself has quarreled with Borislow.
Early in the season, WPS administered a fine and docked the team a point in the standings — actions taken because of Borislow’s reluctance to install signboards around the field with ads for league sponsors, failure to create a team Web site and for scheduling home matches at a Florida Atlantic University complex that didn’t meet seating requirements.
WPS, which is struggling to stay afloat after four teams folded in the first two years, has moved to terminate the franchise for breach of contractual obligations. Borislow, in turn, filed an injunction that would force the league into arbitration.
“I am trying to mend fences with some of the other owners now,” Borislow said Monday.
The union grievance also claimed Borislow, who coached the team for a period, was in violation of U.S. Soccer Federation requirements that coaches earn an “A” coaching license within two years of their appointment. Borislow was not on pace to receive one. He later yielded the role and named Wambach the player-coach.
“Abby was the best one to fix this and lead the team forward,” he said.
The players are caught in the middle. Some — even those no longer with magicJack — fear retribution and declined to discuss the team’s situation.
“We have nothing to do with this stuff that’s between Dan and the league,” Wambach told WBUR, the National Public Radio affiliate in Boston. “That’s his business, and for us, it may affect us down the road, but we’re not focusing on that.”
Despite a roster that includes U.S. national team stars Wambach, Solo, Christie Rampone, Megan Rapinoe and Shannon Boxx, magicJack averaged 1,048 fans for the first four home matches. Thanks to the U.S. team’s performance at the World Cup and the expansion of stadium seating, ticket sales and publicity rose significantly for the final five home games.
“You have to build the best product first. We built the best product the league has ever seen,” Borislow said in an e-mail to The Post. “We had a very successful year and could have been almost picture perfect if we did not play games” while the World Cup players were away.
MagicJack completed the regular season Sunday with a 9-7-2 record, finishing third in the six-team league, and will host Boston in a first-round playoff match Wednesday.
Beyond the e-mails, there have also been organizational issues. Briana Scurry was fired as general manager after making comments during ESPN’s World Cup coverage about Solo that Borislow deemed overly critical. No replacement was named. The team doesn’t have a ticketing, marketing or communications staff.
The tone of the e-mails in the grievance is consistent with Borislow’s language in his public comments during the season. In an interview with the Web site allwhitekit.com, he compared the league to “infidels” and “organized crime.”
In an interview with the Miami Herald, he said: “I refuse to be a zombie and do things just because the league says.”
The e-mails repeatedly threaten the players’ careers. After a 2-1 loss at Boston in June, the players were told: “You may blame your lack of effort and heart on me, but I will not be the one who suffers the consequences. Why, because it will be you who will not be playing professional soccer ever again in your life. That chapter in your life is about to be closed.”
The league was also targeted in that e-mail: “The refs are bad, the coaches and owners and league officials are clueless and nobody knows if you will be around next year. … Everybody is responsible including the players for making a good thing and turning it into shit.”
It went on to say that, when the national team players return from the World Cup, “there will be players never playing pro soccer again. … I have been such a poor teacher and couldn’t get the thing that meant the most to me and that is I help teach you how to be successful at whatever you want to do in life. I did the opposite and helped create some even bigger losers.”
The e-mails also contained playing advice and criticism. In May, the team was told “the young players were completely punked off the ball, let their players receive the ball with ease and basically sucked. Although you may have skill, you don’t have what the living legends [a reference to Wambach and other national team players] have and your short on heart. Before someone punks me and pushes me off the ball, they would find a foot up their ass. They would know what I think about their mother and the rest of their family.”
Following a 3-1 loss at Philadelphia in June, the second defeat in a week to the Independence by a combined 9-1, an e-mail said: “With this lose [sic], the players have lost their tweeting privileges. Anybody who violates this will be terminated and not paid.”
He then informed the players that they must submit to fitness tests, “and whomever fails will have two-a-days [practices]” over 12 days. “If you think this is unfair or wrong, stay home and cry on your parents’ shoulders. … If you don’t work and dedicate yourselves to something in your life, you will be losers your whole life. … You’re a good group of young women, if I can’t get through to a few of you, I will be very disappointed. Worse than that, if I am ineffective in helping to make a few model citizens, I won’t be here next year. Maybe this is the reason why women’s pro soccer will never make it.”
In May, players were criticized for leaving a postgame function early. “I almost feel that some of you are socially and family inept,” the e-mail said.
Other teams were targeted in the e-mails. About Atlanta, one read: “Let’s crush this low paid ghetto team this weekend and show that paying your team in food stamps isn’t the right solution either.” (Last-place Atlanta’s payroll is much smaller than magicJack’s.)
The e-mails spared the magicJack’s World Cup players from criticism and set them as an example to others. “They come off the field in five pieces, feel good about themselves and want to do it all over again the next day if need be. … The fact that I have to tell you this week in and out tells me we have some losers on the team.”
In one e-mail, disdain for the media is shared.
“The league are a bunch of idiots who think that it is OK for the press to lie and say negative things, and still cater to them. … The way I treat the league and the media is to make sure they stay off your backs. I will teach both of these groups to treat us with respect or stay the hell away.”
Later in that e-mail, this line appears: “I don't like most people. It’s just a fact and that’s the way it is.”