On Tuesday, the NWSL’s Washington Spirit announced that head coach Richie Burke was resigning due to “health concerns” and would take on a front-office role “once his health improves.”
After a Wednesday Washington Post report alleged a pattern of verbal abuse including “racially insensitive jokes” and use of the n-word by the head coach, the team announced that it was suspending Burke and conducting an investigation into the allegations.
“On the heels of our announcement yesterday that Coach Burke was resigning, a Washington Post reporter contacted the Spirit with allegations of mistreatment — verbal and emotional abuse leveled at players — by Coach Burke,” at team statement reads. “We take these allegations very seriously and are undertaking an immediate investigation. Burke has been suspended pending the investigation and is prohibited from contacting players and staff and our facilities.
“We, as a team, will not tolerate any situation for our players and staff that is less than professional. Our athletes, and all of those who support them, deserve the absolute best.”
Player: Burke was ‘unbelievably volatile’
The Post report detailed allegations levied by ex-player Kaiya McCullough, who quit the team last season amid what she described as verbal and emotional abuse by Burke. She told the Post that Burke made her “hate soccer.”
“I was 100 percent in a situation where I was being emotionally abused by Richie,” McCullough said. “He created this environment where I knew I wasn’t playing as well, because I was so, so scared to mess up and be yelled at. It crippled my performance, and it made me super anxious.”
According to the report, McCullough was one of at least four players who left the team in the last two seasons because of Burke’s alleged abuse. Two other players spoke with the Post anonymously about what they described as “abusive” treatment from the head coach. They described Burke as “unbelievably volatile” and prone to screaming at them inches from their faces, calling them terms like “dog s***” and “a waste of space.”
Former player accused Burke of using homophobic slurs
Shortly after the Spirit hired him in 2018, a former player on a youth team Burke previously coached alleged that he was prone to belligerent outbursts that included homophobic language.
“He used the word f***** multiple times,” an anonymous player told SB Nation in 2019.
The Spirit investigated those allegations and retained Burke as head coach at the time.
Burke has not addressed the latest allegations publicly and didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Post. The NWSL confirmed to the post that Burke was under investigation.
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