Coaches come and go, but in the case of the Utah Royals, the way they appear to be sending head coach Craig Harrington on his way is indicative of deep problems at a club already beset by accusations of a racist and misogynist front office culture. Media and fans found out that Harrington had been placed on administrative leave literally as the Royals kicked off in a game against the Portland Thorns on Sunday, with assistant coach Louis Lancaster also on administrative leave. That left Amy LePeilbet to step in as interim head coach. The Royals lost to Portland 3-0.
In response to media requests for more information, the Royals only put out an official response that said:
Utah Royals FC Head Coach Craig Harrington and Assistant Coach Louis Lancaster have been placed on a leave of absence from team activities, including today’s match against Portland Thorns FC. In the interim, Amy LePeilbet has been named head coach.
Earlier in the day, most of the Royals players tweeted the following statement:
We’ve had enough. Enough of racist systems excluding black and brown people. Enough of sexist stereotypes infiltrating conversations about our talents and achievements as athletes. Enough of a work environment that is not open and inclusive for all. We acknowledge the past wrongdoings of this organization and choose to move forward in a new direction. It’s important for us not to sweep these things under the rug, but to bring them to light, in order to hold ourselves and the people around us to a much higher standard. As a team, w’ere setting the standard with a new beginning. One that is open, welcoming, community driven, and elite. One that continues the work of iconic trailblazers like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to demand equality and respect for all. We expect everyone associated with us to join in upholding these standards. Anything less will impede our progress as a club, as players, and as people. We refuse to settle.”
Also during the game, The Athletic’s Meg Linehan reported that sources indicated to her that Harrington had made “multiple inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to staff.”
Sources have said that Harrington has made multiple inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to staff — based off my conversations so far, this has not been to/at/about players. #NWSL https://t.co/JcPSJp2adB— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) September 20, 2020
After the game, the Royals made team captain Amy Rodriguez, Vero Boquete, and Amy LePeilbet available to the media. As an editorial aside, the club certainly could have done more to alleviate the work their players did with the media by making their own statement ahead of time, and by making a club official available to answer questions that were certain to be asked, particularly given the almost total lack of initial information. Instead, the Royals put Rodriguez on first, and when asked by Linehan about what had changed since she did media availability with Harrington a week ago, responded: “Right now the club has told me that I am not in a position to comment about the staff at this time.”
Neither Rodriguez nor LePeilbet would confirm the timeline of exactly when LePeilbet officially became interim head coach. LePeilbet only said “it happened pretty fast, so we moved quickly.” Rodriguez and Boquete both did affirm their confidence in LePeilbet as their interim, with Boquete saying, “It’s an honor to be coached by Amy.... I have so much respect for her. She was a fantastic player, but I also respect her because I know the potential that she has as a coach. She’s here to make us improve in the month that we have.”
As for the team statement, Rodriguez and Boquete talked about the players needing time to talk to each other and make sure they came out with a unified statement. Boquete said that ultimately, even under these circumstances, playing the game was a relief. “When it’s game day it looks like the problems are gone and you can actually focus on something. We needed this game. We needed to keep going,” she said.
Rodriguez said, “Coming into this game there was a lot of weight on our shoulders and on this club in general, so we just really wanted to go out there and play and release that set of issues and hard feelings that we’ve been experiencing.”
“We just want to be together and we demand better,” said Boquete.