Owner of former Washington Freedom faces players union grievance

MagicJack's Borislow accused of threatening players and creating a 'hostile, oppressive and intimidating work environment'

August 17, 2011|By Steven Goff, The Washington Post

The women’s pro soccer team in South Florida employs several of the U.S. stars from this summer’s World Cup, including Abby Wambach and Hope Solo, but the figure who has drawn much of the attention this season has been its owner, Dan Borislow.

As magicJack — which is named after Borislow’s broadband telephone device — enters the Women’s Professional Soccer playoffs this week, a cloud of contentiousness and uncertainty hovers over the club.

The team was formerly known as the Washington Freedom before the 49-year-old entrepreneur purchased it from Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks last fall and moved it from Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County to near his Palm Beach home.

The players union filed a grievance in July that accused Borislow of bullying and threatening players and creating a “hostile, oppressive and intimidating work environment.”

The union cited several e-mails attributed to Borislow that were relayed to the players through staff members’ accounts. The correspondence showed, according to the complaint, “Borislow’s clear failure to behave in a dignified manner.”

The union’s grievance, which was made public after the World Cup, spoke in general terms about the substance of Borislow’s e-mails, which were contained in an attachment to the complaint. The e-mails were not made public.

The Washington Post recently obtained copies of the e-mails, in which the author used coarse language, referred to “losers” on the team, called some players “socially and family inept” and banned players from posting updates on Twitter accounts after one particular defeat.

The day after a 3-0 loss to the Western New York Flash in May, the players received an e-mail saying: “You have no idea how you are going to get better, but I can tell you there’s only a couple ways. Play with the very best and act like them on and off the field. If you don’t do this, you are toast and will be playing in a rec league within years, drinking beer and farting after the game at a local bar and telling people how good you used to be at age 26.”

In an e-mail exchange with The Post on Monday, Borislow said he didn’t distribute e-mails to his players and said, “I believe e-mails might have been stolen from my account.”

A former magicJack staff member and player, Shannon Myers, from whose e-mail account many of the messages were sent, said she relayed the e-mails on Borislow’s behalf. The union said it vetted the e-mails’ origins.

“Some of the e-mails in question were sent from Borislow’s account and others from a former employee’s account at his demand,” union executive director Jennifer Hitchon said. “They were enclosed with the players’ union grievance as evidence of his misconduct. He had the opportunity to review and respond to the allegations as part of the WPS grievance process, and at the time he acknowledged the e-mails were his and made no pretense of denying them.”

Myers no longer works for the club. Borislow said she was dismissed because “she was working for the team, but got confused she was working for the players. She was told numerous times of her priorities and responsibilities.”

In a letter to Hitchon after the grievance was filed, Borislow demanded that “any confidential information belonging to our team” be destroyed, but never denied writing the e-mails to the players.

Borislow said in the e-mail exchange with The Post that “the real players didn’t file [the grievance], maybe it was just one or two players who were let go or do not play.”

Aside from the union’s complaint on behalf of the magicJack players, the league itself has quarreled with Borislow.

Early in the season, WPS administered a fine and docked the team a point in the standings — actions taken because of Borislow’s reluctance to install signboards around the field with ads for league sponsors, failure to create a team Web site and for scheduling home matches at a Florida Atlantic University complex that didn’t meet seating requirements.

WPS, which is struggling to stay afloat after four teams folded in the first two years, has moved to terminate the franchise for breach of contractual obligations. Borislow, in turn, filed an injunction that would force the league into arbitration.

“I am trying to mend fences with some of the other owners now,” Borislow said Monday.

The union grievance also claimed Borislow, who coached the team for a period, was in violation of U.S. Soccer Federation requirements that coaches earn an “A” coaching license within two years of their appointment. Borislow was not on pace to receive one. He later yielded the role and named Wambach the player-coach.

“Abby was the best one to fix this and lead the team forward,” he said.

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