“It is time for the Spirit to turn the page on this sad chapter in its history and bring in new leadership to chart a new path,” Kang wrote in the letter, which was sent to some investors and obtained by The Washington Post. “That change must start at the top. I call on Steve Baldwin to put the Club first and honor the commitment he made to Commissioner [Lisa] Baird and me on August 13.”
In a previous email to NWSL owners in August, Kang wrote that Baldwin had previously agreed to sell his shares to her and step down. The NWSL — including Baird — was informed of the plans, Kang said in that email, but Baldwin changed his mind.
Baldwin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He has previously declined to comment on questions from The Washington Post about the treatment of women at the club and about tension with Kang.
Kang, the CEO of a health-care technology company, bought a stake in the team last year, part of a wave of women owners and investors in the NWSL. The Spirit’s high-profile group of investors includes prominent political figures such as Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager as well as Briana Scurry, the former U.S. women’s national team goalkeeper.
Kang wrote to investors Monday that Spirit players and staff had approached her in April to share stories “that reflected how toxic our workplace culture had become.” She said she had worked to convince Baldwin and Bill Lynch, the team’s third co-owner, “that fundamental changes were necessary to provide a safe and professional workplace” but that Baldwin had failed to address the issues.
The league investigation of the Spirit was recently completed, according to two people familiar with the matter. It was opened in August to examine allegations of verbal abuse against the team’s former coach, Richie Burke, but the probe eventually widened to include allegations by multiple female employees of a toxic “old boys’ club” culture, including the use of degrading nicknames for female players by a male executive, The Post reported this month. The results of the investigation have not been made public, but an announcement is expected this week.
The Spirit has lost 40 percent of the female staff listed on its website at the beginning of the season, including an assistant coach and three of its five female department heads, according to multiple people familiar with the team’s operations.
In her letter to investors, Kang said she wanted to “express my deep regret to the players and staff who have left the Club because of our workplace environment. The organization should have done better.”
Kang said in the letter that she was told by employees and players that “a climate of fear and intimidation” had persisted with the team. “An archaic and hierarchical command-and-control mindset, built on bullying and cronyism, left no room for the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Kang wrote.
After helping to revitalize the club when he bought a controlling ownership stake in 2018, Baldwin more recently has overseen an organization in the midst of upheaval.
In addition to the abuse allegations and the exodus of female staff, a coronavirus outbreak led to the team forfeiting two matches, threatening the Spirit’s playoff hopes. The Spirit had more than four unvaccinated players at the time of the outbreak, according to a person familiar with the team’s operations, and was fined $25,000 by the league for multiple health and safety violations in addition to the forfeits.
The Spirit played a match Sunday for the first time in nearly a month, notching a 2-1 victory over Kansas City at Segra Field in Leesburg. Kang attended the game, but Baldwin was not present.
In the stands, the Spirit’s main supporters group, the Spirit Squadron, was mostly silent: The group had said in a statement last week that it would not chant, fly flags or play drums until new ownership was in place. Among protest banners unfurled at the game was one that read, “Can You Hear Us Now?”