Arnim Whisler believes he can run Red Stars organization adequately

Fan groups have called for Whisler to sell his majority stake in the franchise after reports of abuse that preceded coach Rory Dames’ resignation, but he said no one has inquired about buying him out.

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Red Stars majority owner Arnim Whisler never did a background check on Rory Dames before hiring him as coach. 

Dames coached on a volunteer basis for his first two years with the organization while it competed in the Women’s Premier Soccer League in 2011 and the Women’s Premier Soccer League Elite in 2012. 

Whisler claims he had no knowledge of accusations of misconduct against Dames dating to 1998, according to the Washington Post. The allegations include an unnamed player alleging that Dames groomed her for a sexual encounter once she turned 18.  

Dames became a full-time Red Stars employee when the National Women’s Soccer League was established in 2013. Whisler’s evaluation of Dames was based on his two years as a volunteer. The organization never looked into his history as a youth coach. 

“During those first two years, we didn’t conduct a background check because he was a volunteer,” Whisler said. “[Based on] the support from the players, the performance on the field and the character at the time when we formed the NWSL, we proceeded to employ him as the coach.”

Dames went on to become the longest-tenured head coach in the NWSL. He kept his job despite a 2018 investigation after Christen Press filed a formal complaint against him with U.S. Soccer. There also were concerns brought directly to Whisler from Red Stars players and employees. 

Whisler said that the “handful” of concerns brought to him were not on the level of abuse and that the organization investigated each. Afterward, he felt comfortable moving on without taking action against Dames. 

He said the first abuse complaint he received about Dames came when former NWSL general counsel Lisa Levine notified him about the 2018 investigation. The Red Stars didn’t fire Dames because no recommendation was made to do so. 

At 11:54 p.m. on Nov. 21, Dames resigned with a statement before the Post published claims of verbal, emotional and racial abuse. Whisler said the team’s decision to allow Dames to resign as opposed to firing him was made in consideration of the players.

“The decision to allow Rory to step down after the championship match was allowing the players to finish the season that they wanted to finish,” Whisler said. “We conducted an internal workplace assessment with a third-party sports psychologist and others and made sure that the environment was safe to continue.” 

The Red Stars hired a crisis-management firm after the story published and released several statements attributed to the organization, not Whisler. 

In the 82 days it took for Whisler to publish a statement or address the media since the Post’s original report, Whisler said his priority was communicating with players. 

“Part of not talking publicly was to give us time to make sure we had everything figured out,” he said. 

Whisler said he wasn’t alarmed by the number of players who requested trades from the team between 2017 and ’18. He talked through the reasons for the trades with Dames and approved each one.

Dames’ explanation for trading Press was her desire for a new environment and role. According to Whisler, Jen Hoy’s reason for requesting a trade was that she had almost no playing time. Hoy was included in the Post’s report that detailed Dames’ abusive behavior. Whisler regrets that the organization’s improvements in 2018 weren’t enough. 

Preseason training is underway, and the Red Stars are still without a head coach. Rade Tanaskovic, the team’s goalkeeper coach, is the acting head coach. He also is listed as the director of goalkeeping at Eclipse, the soccer club for which Dames was the listed owner before the Post’s original report. 

Fan groups have called for Whisler to sell his majority stake in the franchise, but he said no one has inquired about buying him out. 

“If it’s right for me to move on, I will move on,” Whisler said. Asked if he thought it was time to move on now, Whisler said, “I don’t.”

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