Before we begin I want to give a huge shoutout to @AmanLoodu on twitter for the meme that’s the lead art for this article. He’s one of the funniest and most on point people on Whitecaps twitter and right now he only has 69 (nice) followers so be sure to give him a follow. This particular meme, to me, sums up the Vancouver Whitecaps’ halfhearted attempt to fend off allegations from over a dozen former Whitecaps Women players of sexual harassment and bullying that was never adequately dealt with. The statement, it seems, was clearly made as a reaction to fan resentment over the issue and is remarkably lacking in introspection or remorse. People have already lambasted it online but I thought it would be worth going through a few passages and analyzing them. Despite the corporate jargon of the statement there are still several sections that strike me as particularly egregious.
“There is no higher priority at Vancouver Whitecaps than the safety and well-being of our staff and athletes.”
Swing and a miss on the first sentence. For starters, the former webmaster for the Whitecaps chimed in to talk about how highly the Whitecaps valued his safety when he worked there.
Committed to wellbeing of staff? Hahahahahahahahahahahaha, they forced me to come back after only a week off after a severe seizure inducing concussion and demanded a doctors note, they don't give a shit about their employees or anyone else.— morbital (@morbital) April 17, 2019
But also, recall that there was a very recent case of sexual assault against an academy player and according to the boy’s mother the Whitecaps were very resistant to getting the police involved. If you really valued safety there wouldn’t be any question of involving the police when something like that happened.
“We have noted recent blogs and commentary in respect to the Whitecaps Women’s Team of 2008...”
Maybe it’s a nitpick but this wording seems slippery to me because, as fans, our ire is not limited to what happened in 2008. Many of the stories are focused on 2008 because Ciara McCormack was the first to come forward with her story, but it’s more the overall pattern of apathy that troubles me. In addition to 2008 there is also the 2017 sexual assault I mentioned, and a harrowing 2011 story of a female player being made to stay in the same hotel room as the head coach of the Whitecaps for a night and “deal with his advances that night” (by the way, that coach, as far as I can tell, is still working as well. Feels like he’s gotten away with it a bit more than Bob Birarda has by virtue of featuring in the story less). What we’re mad about isn’t the bad actions of an individual, it’s a culture that doesn’t properly protect athletes and staff.
“Let us start by saying that as a club we hold ourselves accountable to ensuring there is a respectful, progressive workplace policy of the highest standard in place and expect full compliance from every member of the club.”
No you don’t. In addition to the coverups which are the primary focus of this article, there are many examples of this supposed policy not being followed. Before his account was cleaned up Jordon Mutch had liked a ton of islamophobic and bigoted tweets by extremists. Shaenon Williams was arrested for domestic abuse and then returned to the team. WFC2 player Sahil Sandhu was charged with sexual assault and returned to the team. Yordy Reyna had his off field problems, Fredy Montero had sexual assault and stalking charges brought against him in 2009 by a Seattle Sounders employee and there have been unconfirmed rumblings that Anthony Blondell may have gotten up to some unsavoury stuff. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to squish all these together as one issue but the Whitecaps have kind of done that with their statement so it is what it is. Before we continue, Let us be clear about a few things; being accused of something and being guilty of it isn’t the same thing. There is also not a totally unreasonable school of thought that as long as a player’s prejudices (i’m reticent to refer to them as political beliefs) don’t disrupt the locker room then they shouldn’t be taken into account but that’s a tricky ethical dilemma for another day. The point is, this is a weirdly high number of guys with questionable pasts for a team that demands a respectful and progressive work place. You can decide you’re going to put together the group of players and staff that gives you the best chance at on field success and everything else be damned, and fair enough if that’s the direction you decide to go. Just don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining.
“Any matter arising which may contravene our policy is advanced through a rigorous assessment and, where appropriate, action is taken...”
“As part of our commitment to the safety and well-being of our players and staff, we are initiating an independent third-party review and assessment of our respectful workplace policies and procedures to ensure they are timely and up to date and are achieving the highest level of leadership and performance in this area. Over the coming weeks we will work to identify the most qualified experts to lead this important evaluation and will provide a further update once this appointment is made.”
In fairness, it’s probably good that they are conducting an inquiry. It’s a real shame though that they had to get embarrassed before deciding it was time for this. Unfortunately they’re about to undercut whatever goodwill they may have gained from this in the next section.
“As you would expect, the Ombudsperson had access to players and staff to conduct confidential interviews and gather information on an anonymous basis. Upon conclusion of the investigation, while the Ombudsperson had no recommendations for further action, the club and coach parted ways.”
Do you hear something?
[sirens getting closer]
Oh my, could it be?
The bullshit alarm™!?
There are several giant problems with this section. Every player who has come forward, including Whitecaps ring of honour member Andrea Neil, has raised serious concerns about how few of the athletes involved were interviewed as part of the investigation. Secondly the way they are hiding behind the ombudsperson not having any further recommendations is incredibly slimy.
Andrea Neil states “[the ombudsperson] told me that she would be informing the organizations that the staff member at the center of the investigation should avoid future roles such as coaching, as she felt that he could not manage what she called the power imbalance between his role as a coach and his relationship with the players.”
I suppose that might not be a recommendation in the most technical sense of the world but it seems like the sort of thing that, if it’s said of one of your employees, it’s probably not a good idea to just watch them coach teenaged girls for a decade and not say anything to anyone (though, of course, someone said something and wasn’t listened too).
The other reason that hiding behind the ombudsperson’s lack of recommendations is a scummy move is outlined by CBC reporter Karin Larsen:
She told me the terms of her investigation did NOT include making any recommendations about consequences for the coach. And she said she didn't make any recommendations. Which is strange because Whitecaps + Canada Soccer statements contain wording to the effect...— Karin Larsen (@CBCLarsen) April 18, 2019
...she didn’t make any recommendations because she wasn’t hired to make recommendations.— Karin Larsen (@CBCLarsen) April 18, 2019
Not good folks, not good. Look, Whitecaps, I know you guys are at least vaguely aware of who I am and what I write because every now and then someone gets in touch to make a correction or complain about something (not necessarily as a coordinated effort but it happens). So if any of you are in the audience tonight my question to you is this: Considering you’ve misrepresented the role of the ombudsperson in such a cynical fashion, how can the public trust this enquiry you’ve announced?
“In light of the specific details contained in a blog dated April 1, 2019, we were concerned there may be new information related to this matter that did not come forward in 2008 or since. Therefore, we immediately contacted the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to ensure they were aware of the blog and could assess if further action or review is required. Since then, we have been in active communication with the VPD to offer our full and ongoing support and cooperation. As the matter is now with the authorities we encourage anyone with information that may be helpful to reach out to VPD directly.”
Only about a decade late.
“Thank you, Vancouver Whitecaps FC”
I’m far from the first person to point this out but it really is low that they couldn’t even get a person to sign their name to this.
A Quick Word on #WalkOut35:
When I first wrote on this topic I urged people to not let the story just go away. It was really amazing to see so many people doing just that. When I go to games I sit in an area where people mostly don’t chant and there are a lot of people who only come to a game or two a year. I was fully expecting to be the only person in my section who walked out. But I was pleasantly surprised that about 20-30 people came along. The crowd who huddled around the screen on the concourse with me featured both the young and old, men and women. It was a group of fans from all backgrounds and support styles coming together to say ‘you know what? Not on my watch!’ Huge shoutout to the supporters groups for helping spark this, the images of them supporting from the hallways are so powerful. Most importantly, a huge shoutout to the players who have bravely come forward with their stories. There’s still work to be done, but this is a very good start.