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Washington Spirit Owner Steve Baldwin Resigns as CEO, Managing Partner

Washington Spirit majority owner Steve Baldwin announced Tuesday his plan to resign as the CEO and managing partner of the team, effective immediately. 

Baldwin shared the news in a letter, writing that he hopes "stepping back removes me as a distraction and allows the club to thrive."

Last week, the Spirit announced they had fired coach Richie Burke for cause after he was initially suspended for allegations of verbal and emotional abuse in August. The league's investigation into Burke eventually expanded 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, according to the Washington Post. As a result of its investigation into the Spirit, the NWSL stripped the club of its ability to take part in league governance for an unspecified length of time and gave the club 14 days to respond to the violations.

On Sept. 27, Spirit co-owner Y. Michele Kang wrote a letter to other team investors calling on Baldwin to step down and sell Kang his shares in the team. “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.

Baldwin made no mention in his announcement whether he will sell his stake in the club, or if his shares would go to Kang. According to the Washington Post, there have been recent talks about Baldwin selling his stakes to Yang.

President Ben Olsen, the former D.C. United star and coach, will have full authority over all club operations, Baldwin said in his letter.

Baldwin's letter, according to the Washington Post, was written at the request of players asking him to step down, though The Athletic reports that the measures laid out in his note do not meet the entirety of their asks. According to The Athletic, players are concerned that Baldwin will retain his ownership of the club, with one saying to them that “this is not what (they) wanted … he is playing with and undermining their demands.”

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The development comes among broader changes within the league.

Last Friday, commissioner Lisa Baird resigned in the wake of a report from The Athletic detailing former players' accusations of sexual coercion against now former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley. Riley was fired on Thursday following the report being published. 

The league and players later agreed to call off last week's matches before determining next steps, following the revelations brought to light by former players Sinead Farrelly, Mana Shim and Kaiya McCullough, the latter of whom was part of a Washington Post investigation into Burke.

On Tuesday, the league's players announced they have decided to return to competition starting Wednesday.

The Spirit are 7-5-7 on the season and set to play NJ/NY Gotham FC on Wednesday.

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