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Kang Takes Ownership Charge of Washington Spirit After Acrimonious Power Struggle

Y. Michele Kang has taken over as the controlling owner of the Washington Spirit, according to an official release from the team on Tuesday, ending a lengthy power struggle at the helm of the reigning NWSL champion.

Kang, a Washington-area businesswoman who previously owned a minority share of the club, will acquire the interests of now former owners Bill Lynch and Steve Baldwin. According to the release, Kang will work with other investors to build a new ownership group.

“I personally appreciate, and want to publicly recognize, Bill Lynch’s pivotal work as the founding owner of the Spirit bringing women’s professional soccer back to our nation’s capital, and also Steve Baldwin’s leadership, vision and formidable drive in building the Spirit and the outstanding roster that won the 2021 NWSL Championship,” Kang said in a statement. “I can’t wait to begin work with our talented, resilient players and staff.”

The sale ends a saga that dates back to the summer 2021, when Washington announced it had fired coach Richie Burke after he had been previously been suspended for allegations of verbal and emotional abuse in August. According to a previous report from the Washington Post, the NWSL then conducted an investigation into the coach and uncovered further allegations by several female employees of a toxic “old boys’ club” culture within the organization.

A Post investigation revealed that Burke was reportedly fired for harassment and creating a toxic work culture for female employees. In the report, former players said Burke had made racist jokes and described him as being “unbelievably volatile.”

Kang made her first public move for control of the team when she wrote a letter Sept. 27 to other team investors, encouraging Baldwin to step down and sell his shares to her. 

“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. Soon after, players voiced their agreement, saying Kang was who they trusted to lead as she "continuously puts players’ needs and interests first."

Baldwin didn’t initially sell his shares, but he did resign from his roles as the CEO and managing partner of the club in October.

Kang reportedly gained a majority ownership of the club last month after convincing eight minority investors to convert their debt to equity and side with her, according to a letter acquired by the Post that was sent from Kang to the NWSL’s Board of Governors.

“I am incredibly proud of what the Spirit has accomplished over the past few years, culminating in the 2021 NWSL championship,” Baldwin said in a statement. “I am pleased that someone with Michele’s commitment to the Spirit will lead the team in its next chapter. I spoke with Michele this morning and told her that Bill and I decided to sell her the team. I sincerely wish her, our wonderful players, and our staff the best.”

Despite the turmoil at the top of the club, the Spirit won the NWSL championship following the 2021 season, defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2–1.

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