On the 11th day of a 16-day break between games, the Washington Spirit posted an 11-word tweet stating that Kris Ward has been relieved of his duties as head coach. The tweet stood alone as the only comment from the team, or Ward, for three days.
Eventually, Washington Spirit President of Soccer Operations and former Florida State University head coach Mark Krikorian confirmed a training ground incident between Ward and a player, and after meetings with players decided “a change was necessary.” Krikorian also called the situation “complicated” and “complex” in response to questions about transparency.
The Spirit have had a miserable season
This season, things have not gone well for Washington. The Spirit’s last and only win was on the first day of their regular season, and currently the team has six losses and 10 draws (nine at the time of Ward’s dismissal).
On results alone, Ward’s job was likely under fire already, and it could have been reasonably assumed that the championship bought him until the offseason. However, it seemed the incident at training gave the Spirit front office enough reason to make the move earlier. Given the championship, supporters and media presumed that something had occurred given the lack of the standard ‘thank you’ message to a once-successful outgoing coach.
Ward gave a Q&A that players refuted
The day after Krikorian addressed the media, The Athletic posted a Q&A with Ward in which the former coach gave his synopsis of the incident. “I think, looking at it now, if I had to do it again, I would do it differently,” Ward said. “Typically my style is one-on-one, having a conversation off to the side. This is the first time where I just kind of used volume instead of pulling a player aside by myself and going through it.”
However, minutes after the Spirit’s 2-2 draw with Houston Dash, co-captain Andi Sullivan, sitting beside co-captain Aubrey Kingsbury, read a statement from Washington Spirit players.
“Firstly, we’re frustrated that this is necessary, given our history. Secondly, we are angered by Kris Ward’s answers in the piece from The Athletic. We know the idiom that there are two sides to every story, but that is simply not the case in this scenario. We know his interview to be a completely inaccurate recollection of a serious situation. And furthermore, the apology offered to us last Friday demonstrates a misalignment in his words and his actions towards the team. The players fully support the decision of the club to relieve him of his duties as head coach, and we have every intention of cooperating in a proper course of action as it related to circumstances like this one. We will no longer take any questions regarding his dismissal, or make any further comments on it at this time.”
Soccer Twitter’s most infamous stars gave their (uninformed) takes
In the aftermath of Ward’s Q&A, Alexi Lalas tweeted in defense of Ward, ‘Coaches can’t yell at pro athletes anymore?’, with fellow ESPN talking head Taylor Twellman chiming in with ‘Raising our voices is now frowned upon?! Dear lord’.
If Lalas and Twellman had done the bare minimum reading as voices of American soccer on national television, they would be familiar with the range of severe accusations in last year’s investigative reporting on Richie Burke, Paul Riley and Rory Dames. Those stories alone should constitute pause prior to hot taking on another incident, particularly without context or waiting to hear from players. Instead, both opted to lean into their ignorance and feed the misogynistic trope that women professional athletes can’t handle “coaching.” Applying context from details in the article they quote tweeted to fire off their uninformed quips, it’s more probable than not that players reacted to more than a raised voice.
In Ward’s Q&A he admits that in the moment a player stepped in to pull away the teammate he was engaging with, assistant coach Angela Salem came to speak with him, another player approached Ward to voice displeasure, and after he returned to his office yet another player came in to discuss the situation.
Clearly, this was not as simple or cut and dry as the raising of a voice, and certainly not from multiple players’ perspectives. Reports that video of the incident exists were confirmed by Ward in his Q&A, though with it being from a training session the clarity of the audio is unknown. Krikorian noted that it’s up to the NWSL and NWSLPA to determine if an investigation is warranted, but that that Spirit would be moving on to sign an interim coach.
Perhaps more information about this situation will come out, but it seems several steps beginning with the initial confrontation and many afterward have made this situation more of a public back and forth than it needed to be. That’s unfair for any group of players, but particularly ones who are now, sadly, veterans of being placed in this position.