We need to talk about Richie Burke.
The Washington Spirit, a team that finished with just 11 points in all of 2018, are sitting at the top of the NWSL standings right now with 16 points.
You’d expect that accomplishment to send a wave of praise toward coach Richie Burke and the Washington players, but what we’ve actually seen is more of a ripple.
This winter, the parent of a former youth player at FC Virginia alleged that Burke had used abusive and homophobic language when he was coaching there. Stephanie Yang wrote about the allegations for Black and Red United back in February.
It’s hard enough to get any accountability when it comes to actual crimes, with even sexual or physical violence sometimes treated like an inconvenience more than anything else. When it comes to something as “harmless” as using abusive and homophobic language people are often willing to treat it as nothing more than a coach being a hard ass.
But the allegations are actually quite simple. A man in a position of power over young men used abusive and homophobic language as a way to degrade and humiliate them. This display of anger and aggression should be as unacceptable as a coach putting their hands on a player. The coach in question should not pass go and should not get put in charge of professional level players after the allegations are swept back under the rug.
The most striking part of this isn’t that someone in a position of power is alleged to have used abusive and homophobic language. The most striking part is the reaction to those allegations. Since the story came out, the NWSL and the Washington Spirit have done, well, nothing.
There has been no publicly announced formal investigation that would allow the league and the team look at what was alleged to have happened. There been no comments from Burke about soul-searching, not even a mealy-mouthed apology about ‘misunderstandings,’ no commitment to work on developing a better understanding of the issue. Nor do any of these parties seem all that concerned with severity of the allegations.
No, there is just this comment given to John D. Halloran after Washington played Chicago.
Last night I asked Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke if he had yet to address accusations from some of his former youth players that he had used homophobic slurs. pic.twitter.com/jpbu0GcAwX — John D. Halloran (@JohnDHalloran) May 27, 2019
And while we have heard nothing from the team or the league about the allegations, we do hear about Burke in the commentary on NWSL games, where fans and media are subjected to endless positive discussion. No context, no effort to even mention the allegation, just sugary sweet positivity that claws at the back of your throat.
Fans deserve better than this. They deserve consistent, committed announcers who understand the league, the storylines and the on and off the field happenings, and who aren’t afraid to discuss the good and the bad. Something more measured instead of that cloying sweet positivity could keep casual viewers in the loop, and lend some support to those who have serious concerns about these allegations.
On one hand, what Burke is accused to doing is deeply disturbing. But on the other hand . . . you know what? Sometimes there isn’t an other hand.
Richie Burke has apparently made the Washington Spirit play better soccer. But that doesn’t mean anything where it comes to the issue of abuse.
The NWSL and Washington have gotten this all wrong. They should have taken serious action months ago, done their due diligence, and seriously looked into these issues. If Burke is innocent, there should have been a real effort to figure it out. And if he isn’t innocent, there should be repercussions. A fine and suspension would not be out of line. Maybe more. It doesn’t matter that it was a former job. Sam Johnson had to sit out a game for the Utah Royals because of an Australia W-League red card. Why shouldn’t Burke be held to at least that standard?
The NWSL and Washington want to sweep this under the rug. But it’s not going to go away, and someone has to address the Burke issue. The media isn’t going to stop asking about him, and Washington doesn’t look like they are going to be out of the headlines anytime soon.