Featured / Independence

The blame game

Before we even dip a toe into the blame game that is WPS vs Dan Barislow, I have one serious question.

Who represents WPS?

Legally, I mean.

Indulge me for a minute, if you will.

Let’s assume that I got a new job. On my first day in the new office, rather than set up my email, read the personnel manual and display a photo of my adorable puppy, I instead chose to smash my computer, spray paint my name on the wall, and subject my coworkers to a vicious series of guerrilla wedgie attacks. My boss would eventually confront me, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” If I responded by giving him the finger, I could expect nothing less than the immediate termination of my employment.

And if I filed a wrongful termination suit? Any competent judge would laugh my unwarrantedly aggressive ass out of his or her courtroom? On what grounds was I filing the lawsuit? Having broken so many rules in such a blatant manner, I wouldn’t have a leg on which to stand.

See where I’m going with this?

Every professional sports league from giants like Major League Baseball to minnows like the Sri Lankan Badminton Association have rules. They have detailed by-laws that lay out how their league will function. Additionally, there is an iron-clad (hopefully) set of rules for each team who operates within the league. All potential mistakes, disagreements and other exceptions have properly-documented mediation procedures with definitive punishments should they be required. If properly and thoughtfully executed, there are no remaining gray areas in which teams can survive in limbo. Thus, there can be harmony as everyone exists on a level playing field and knows the level of expectation and professionalism they must meet at all times.

We all know that Dan Borislow is in the wrong (well, everyone except for Abby Wambach, who I guess is tired of being adored after taking a repugnant pro-Borislow, anti-WPS stance on this matter). From moving the team, to changing the name, to the inadequate stadium situation and the lack of proper coaching, he has violated so many of the basic tenets of the league that, as in the equally ridiculous anecdote above, his case should have beeen slammed shut as fast as it was opened.

But somehow it wasn’t. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the back room goings on of WPS and thus I implore someone to shine a light on just how riddled-with-holes is a WPS constitution that allows such an egregiously guilty man to circumvent their laws. Or did WPS break so many of their own rules in attempting to evict him that they opened themselves up to for the litigious battering they are currently being forced to endure.

Vetting process?

While I in no way condone any of the actions taken by Borislow throughout this whole saga, WPS needs to shoulder their fair share of the burden for these developments and stand accountable for allowing this maniac to create the problems that he has. Money certainly talks and there is no doubting that the allure of Borislow’s financial clout gave the league fantasies of fiscal stability for years to come. Perhaps such an intense, aggressive businessman joining the league could backstop more than one club in the fashion of one of MLS’ founding investors, Lamar Hunt.

But, where was the requisite legwork that should accompany any expansion or takeover process (similarly to World Cup or Olympic bidding)? Where was the complete Washington Freedom package, listing the venue to be used, expected gate reports, financial projections, management team, coaching staff and marketing plan? This concrete business plan alone should have been enough to force Borislow’s hand. Listening to Jennifer O’Sullivan explain sadly about the league’s money troubles may pull at the heart strings, but it was her predecessors who got the league into this mess. A cashier’s check should not be all that is required to purchase a team in any league, especially one whose existence was always teetering on a knife edge.

Dan Borislow

One cannot help but wonder what Borislow’s end game was/is in all of this. No matter what you have to say about the man (and please do, that’s what comment sections are for), no one can accuse him of being stupid when it comes to his money. A self-made man, Borislow not only successfully designed magicJack but then marketed the living bejeezus out of both it and himself. In theory, this is the ideal investor for a young league.

Amazing what you can find on the Internet

Back to the question. Why did Borislow get involved with WPS? Was it just an opportunity to smear his logo and brand across new things? Was the concept of little girls across the country wearing an Abby Wambach jersey with his product emblazoned across the chest the best marketing concept he had ever thought of? For a shrewd businessman like Borislow, it is now naive to think that his participation in the league was due to anything other than shameless self-promotion. As we are continuing to learn, WPS was less a cash cow and more a child’s piggy bank, with its belly only half full of pennies.

But put the dollars and cents aside for a minute.

It is nearly impossible to remain objective in this moment of collapse. That an owner, who allegedly wanted to support the game of women’s soccer in the United States, would elect to burn the whole thing to the ground when he was told to take his ball and go home is an unspeakable evil. I do not believe it is hyperbole to say that we, as the simple supporters of WPS, could even begin to fathom the self-aggrandized delusion that goes on in this man’s head. There are zillions of appropriate sports cliches for this situation, all of which distill down to a very basic sentiment, “No one person is bigger than the game.” Borislow chose to adapt his own mantra, “If I can’t have it, no one can.”

While my rational brain keeps coming back to the failure of WPS to cross their T’s and dot their I’s and insure that this sort of legal action could never take place, my more emotional, dare I say human, consciousness cannot get over the deplorable, ego-maniacal persona that is Borislow. How he can look at his daughter (if that little girl in the magicJack ad is indeed his child and not some creepy, Small Wonder-esque robot) and justify his actions is beyond me.

And that is why I would like to add my voice to the thousands of players, coaches and fans who have been hurt by his despicable, self-serving actions.

You suck, Asshole.

Selfish addition that makes this harder to take…

The Independence were going to win the whole damn thing this year. The third time was going to be the charm. And Paul Riley was going hoist the trophy and a third successive Coach of the Year award before settling in as the new manager of the Women’s National Team, where he would promise, and actually deliver, to bring the US back to the pinnacle of women’s soccer as not only the biggest and the fastest team on the planet, but also the most technically gifted and creative side with the largest and most talented player pool the world has ever seen.

Yes, by condensing to five teams, the talent would be even more concentrated this year than in 2011, but with their entire starting XI returning, the Independence added attacking depth in Meghan Lenczyk before going on smash and grab raids of Atlanta and Boston for each of their best players in Lori Chalupny and Lauren Cheney (heavily linked, but never finalized).

Tasha Kai would have again sliced through WPS defenses like a hot knife through butter, the possible combinations of Vero, A. Rod, Cheney and Chalupny would have made opposing coaches tremble, Sinead Farrelly would have continued to blossom into one of the nation’s premier midfielders while Jen Buczkowski would have AGAIN proven it foolish not to anoint her Shannon Boxx’s immediate USWNT successor. But Pia’s loss would have continued to be Philadelphia’s gain as the strongest, deepest, most dangerous lineup would have used the added benefit of a full year of chemistry to lay waste to WPS, whether the Olympic players were around, or not.

So, while everyone’s first instinct is to vent, and by all means, vent away (again, that’s what our comment section is for), once you’ve regained your composure, go on your social networking platform of choice and wish an Independence player the best of luck during what will inevitably prove to be a challenging year. We will still be here once they make their way back and hopefully, somehow, they will all be stronger from this experience.

10 Comments

  1. preach

  2. I’m with you all the way. I’m upset with and disappointed in the league, but I’m downright full of rage at Borislow. Everything would’ve worked out for the league if he had just been an egocentric, megalomaniacal, insufferable bastard. But no. He had to take things further with his flat-out delusional behavior. He violated league procedures that seem common sense for any business such as putting up a website and advertisements alongside the field.

  3. i got lost halfway through

    shorten this and state your point quicker

    phillysoccer not a drama novel

    • There are plenty of short, shallow articles about the demise (hopefully temporary) of the WPS. I appreciate the in-depth take on things with from a Philly perspective.

      • No doubt. The Borislow-taking-down-WPS story is too strange and sordid to be a drama novel. Between this (Borislow’s a Philly guy) and the Le Toux move, Philly may now the center of the pissed-off-soccer-fan universe.

  4. Great questions about the legal issues, and why they were (evidently) not handled better or differently. Lots of people wondering these same things. A few thoughts:

    Since you begin by talking about regular employment context, it’s worth noting that an employer who has more than sufficient cause for terminating an employee — for such things as malfeasance or performance deficiencies — may still face some liability if the employee’s termination is done in a manner that violates a separate, procedural (and usually contractual) right enjoyed by the employee. And while such “procedural” liability will not ultimately be grounds for taking the employee back permanently, it may be grounds for temporary reinstatement, until such time there is a neutral determination (by court or arbitrator) whether there is cause for the termination itself.

    In this case, there is (as you write) little doubt that, in front of a neutral court or arbitrator, the League will be able to show sufficient cause for terminating the MJ franchise as a League member. However, the League was (and still is) facing a risk that MJ might be temporarily reinstated (pending the outcome of arbitration proceeding) as a full-fledged League member, on the basis that the manner of the League’s termination was in violation of a procedural, contractual right held by MJ.

    That risk of MJ’s reinstatement during the 2012 season harmed the League’s ability to attract new partners and investors (i.e., dried up the cash flow, or possible cash flow). Relatedly, the litigation forced the league’s CEO, O’Sullivan, to become the de facto general counsel or litigation manager (from what I’ve read), and that interfered with her ability to do better things with her time, such as market and make deals that would bring in revenue and improve the League in other ways. Further, litigation and arbitration costs money, so that probably has been a drain and will be a drain.

    I happen to believe (for reasons too numerous to explain here) that from a legal perspective, the League was not in serious jeopardy of the court ordering MJ’s reinstatement in 2012. So, in that sense, yesterday’s decision seemed to be an unwarranted capitulation, from a purely legal perspective. (Double irony, though: by disbanding for 2012, the League has made it even more difficult for MJ to win temporary reinstatement as a League member – i.e., everyone is sitting out now, so reinstatement is not a proper remedy for MJ now).

    However, as I note above, potential investors may be scared by litigation risk alone, even if from an objective standpoint, the risk of losing might appear to be small. That is because judges and courts don’t always get things right, they are not always predictable, and yet they are the final word on the matter being litigated (subject to lengthy, costly, and unpredictable appeals).

    More generally, this saga shows that, like a divorce from marriage or a termination of an employee, ending a business partnership is often more difficult, costly, unpredictable, etc., than it ever was to make the initial agreement, relationship, partnership, etc.

  5. CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

    Read the article and came to the conclusion that I still don’t give a sh%T about womens soccer. It similar to the way that I don’t care about mens bathing suit competitions.

  6. Who wants to work for Borislow and his team after this??!!

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