Remembering Dan Borislow

Dan Borislow’s larger-than-life reputation was so great that, upon hearing of his death this morning, I immediately thought I needed to get his side of the story. I was sorely tempted to text him, thinking I might get an entertaining response about a bunch of idiots declaring him dead when he had every right to be alive.

In this case, he would’ve been right. To pass away so suddenly and so young, with children just on the verge of adulthood, is a colossal injustice far beyond anything alleged in a Palm Beach County court document. And for someone like Borislow, who refused and ridiculed idle lifestyles, to pass away from a heart attack after a soccer game is a cruel contradiction for a man whose life was full of contradiction.

The first time I spoke with him was at his urging. I had just reported a development in his unraveling relationship with WPS, and I fully expected him to rip me a new one over the phone. Instead, I called and found a quiet, distracted guy who really just wanted to chat a bit.

He was a man who cared deeply about the women on his team who showed no regrets about scorching the earth under their flailing soccer league.

He was a man who enjoyed chatting with reporters but instilled a powerful code of silence among his players and others in his employ. Strong soccer-playing women would take great care to avoid saying anything about life as a magicJack player.

He was a smart man with a knack for making money, most recently taking $6.7 million in a horse racing jackpot, and yet he was prone to email outbursts that were barely coherent, picking fights with people over trivial things like placing required advertising boards at league games.

It’s safe to say he had issues with authority and would speak up for himself in court. He lost big when he tangled with popular website Boing Boing. A search of Palm Beach County court records shows a long list of traffic infractions, many of which he challenged. He has a couple of court cases, traffic and civil, still open.

He also enjoyed venting. My email was full of rants about U.S. Soccer, WPS and other women’s soccer figures. They got a little personal at times, but if you’ve read any of the court documents from the WPS lawsuit, you already get the idea.

And yet, he cared deeply about a couple of things. First was his family. Second was women’s soccer.

Early in our correspondence, I asked him if he had considered any relationship with youth clubs that had worked with the Washington Freedom as the pro team packed up and left town.

“I would do anything for youth soccer,” he replied.

One of his youth players posted her heartbreak on Twitter:

If women’s soccer could have somehow harnessed his enthusiasm and willingness to support the sport without dealing with the controversies that surrounded him, the sport would have surely been better off. But that would never happen.

“Beau, if my wife can’t change me, no one will,” he once told me with a bit of a laugh.

And no one did.

My sincerest condolences to his family, and I hope his legacy will be to inspire others to take an interest in women’s sports and other underfunded outlets for talented people.

WPS rips Borislow in legal documents

Update: My story on the situation has been posted at espnW.

For those just joining us: Dan Borislow, who turned the Washington Freedom into a star-studded South Florida team called magicJack last year, is suing WPS over his termination from the league. See the legal documents on his lawsuit, the espnW story on the suit, Borislow’s statement on the suit, and Borislow’s second statement after WPS was not immediately granted Division I status with five teams for the 2012 season.

Today, I’ll have another story at espnW on the league’s response to the lawsuit and U.S. Soccer’s decision to delay Division I sanctioning for next season. In the meantime, I have the league’s legal response to the suit (“opposition to motion”) and its motion to dismiss the suit. They’re PDF files, of course:

Opposition to Motion

Motion to Dismiss

WPS is seeking dismissal of the suit plus legal fees for this suit and the August lawsuit.


Borislow-WPS suit documents

Reminder: Here’s Dan Borislow’s statement on the lawsuit and the espnW story.

Here’s what we have. As you read, please bear in mind that these are legal documents representing one side of the case. We have not yet heard from WPS in public, nor have they filed a legal response.

– The complaint is attached. It’s fairly straightforward, setting out why Borislow is demanding reinstatement of his team.

– The motion, also attached, goes into more detail. One key excerpt (page 15, paragraph 21) explains Borislow action after withdrawing August lawsuit: “Satisfied that the League was not going to attempt to terminate the Team during the 2011 season, and believing its disputes with the League were behind it, the Team redoubled its efforts to complete the 2011 season in the most positive possible way, and dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice.”

One item worth singling out: magicJack claims several of its players continue to contact the team expressing a desire to play for the team in 2012. The team also had been contacted to play a “series of lucrative preseason international matches against professional teams in Japan.” (p. 21-22)

A guide to the exhibits mentioned:

– Exhibit A: The league’s LLC agreement (78 pages)

– Exhibit B: Operating agreement with teams (98 pages)

– Exhibit C: Sun-Sentinel feature on Abby Wambach, July 26. This is used in motion to reinforce argument that Borislow kept league afloat.

– Exhibit D: Letter from WPS lawyer Pamela Fulmer to Borislow, explaining league’s position on disputed portions of LLC and operating agreements and offering dates for meeting in person or on the phone, July 5

– Exhibit E: Follow-up letter from Fulmer offering another (earlier) meeting time, July 7

– Exhibit F: espnW story (mine) on new WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan, used in Borislow motion to establish that O’Sullivan had stated publicly that the league was working to resolve dispute with him, Oct. 19

– Exhibit G: This is puzzling. It’s one page of an invoice, and I hesitate to describe it in any more detail for fear that I’m taking it out of context. In the motion, this is described as an invoice for “over $2.5 million in alleged ‘damages’ relating to the 2011 season.” The motion pegs the date on this invoice at Sept. 13 and says O’Sullivan and Fulmer said the league would not allow the team to play in 2012 if it didn’t pay. It did not.

– Exhibit H: Letter from Borislow lawyer Louis Ederer to O’Sullivan (Re: Purported Termination of Membership Interest). Letter states Oct. 25 letter fails to state grounds for terminating team, and Ederer/Borislow ask the league to state what was discussed at Oct. 25 board meeting. Ederer/Borislow also state that league failed to give Dispute Notice or opportunity for hearing — this is discussed at greater length in the motion. Letter dated Nov. 8

– Exhibit I: Response from Fulmer to Nov. 8 letter (Exhibit H) and a Nov. 7 email from Borislow to O’Sullivan (not included). Fulmer starts by informing Ederer that it’s improper for Borislow to contact O’Sullivan on legal matter without consulting WPS lawyer (Fulmer).  Fulmer responds to substance of letter by saying Borislow had been invited to Oct. 25 meeting (he was, after all, a member of the board at that time) and also did not accept several invitations to hearings in June and July.

One ominous point in Exhibit I: “Finally, the League will hold Mr. Borislow accountable for any attempts at disruption of its business relationships with potential expansion teams, sponsors or other third parties such as the USSF. We again reiterate that he cease & desist immediately from making any further inappropriate contact with the League’s business partners.”

In the motion (page 19, paragraph 19), this letter is used in an effort to establish that the termination is a “new” dispute, NOT the same dispute under which magicJack had been threatened with termination over the summer.

– Exhibit J: Palm Beach Post’s Hal Habib story on magicJack termination, Oct. 27

– Exhibit K: Post/Habib story previewing first magicJack home game after World Cup, July 26




WPS and magicJack: Points off the table

(UPDATES: Solo’s Tweets have disappeared, and ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle says she denied deleting them. Also, the league is going to hire people to put up sponsor signage and shoot video of the games, then send magicJack the bill. See the harshly worded statement.)

Hope Solo was apparently surprised, judging by her Twitter output today. Others really weren’t.

WPS laid down the hammer today on magicJack, deducting a point for continued noncompliance with league rules. And as Jenna Pel and Jeff Kassouf tell it, this is merely the latest step in a weeks-long escalation from warning to fine to loss of draft picks to loss of a point.

Those punishments weren’t made public. And judging from Solo’s Tweets, we have to wonder if the players were even aware of the issues.

The most-publicized issue with magicJack was the lack of media access. Pel’s report says the team was indeed fined after failing to allow postgame interviews in its second home game. But players were available for comment after the team’s last game, so that issue might be resolved.

The quiet reassignment of head coach Mike Lyons is a non-issue. WPS requires a head coach to have an “A” license, but coaches have a two-year grace period. So in the short term, magicJack won’t be violating any policies, no matter who’s in charge.

A quick look at the other issues:

Lack of sponsor signage. Some photos from the last magicJack game showed a few banners hanging near the field. We’ll have to see if that’s enough to appease the league. Sponsorship is one area in which the league has made progress; failing to live up to obligations on that front would undermine one of the bright spots in the league’s business history.

Failure to upload game video for scouting and stats. That’s a competitive issue, and it’ll be interesting to see what magicJack owner Dan Borislow has to say about it. Jeff’s report says other teams are furious.

Failure to have a functioning Web site. Jenna says the team got an extension, which seems fair for a new team. Borislow has said he’ll market the team at the appropriate time. A few people on Twitter have volunteered to keep up the team’s site, but it’s not really that simple.

Stadium capacity. WPS might not have a leg to stand on here. They knew the situation ahead of time, and it’s really up to Florida Atlantic getting more bleachers ready.

Pressbox sight lines. This complaint can’t go anywhere. Even at the Maryland Soccerplex, an ideal venue in every respect other than the distance from D.C. and Northern Virginia, the corners of the field are obscured from most seats in the pressbox.

So some of these issues should be easily resolved, and others will simply require patience.

The bigger issue: Borislow and WPS clearly have differing views on how to run a soccer team and league. Usually, negotiations about how to run things take place in the offseason. Here, they’re unfolding before our eyes. And unfortunately, we can see all this drama, but we can’t see video highlights of this wonderfully talented team in action.

The good news for magicJack is that the fan experience, by many accounts, is terrific. See Part I and Part II of this detailed report from a BigSoccer poster.

The players seem happy, judging by the few public comments and Ella Masar’s blog. The fans who can see the team seem happy. The questions are these:

  • What responsibility does a WPS team have to fans of the women’s game who can’t commute to South Florida? Highlights? More media access?
  • What responsibility does a team have to other teams in its league?
  • What responsibility does a team have to its league’s sponsors and backers?

Comments welcome.

The Freedom of the Majestic WPS FCs

Here’s a quick attempt to summarize what is known about women’s soccer teams in the Washington area as of 5:30 p.m. ET, March 24, 2011:

– The Northern Virginia Majestics, affiliated with the PDL’s Northern Virginia Royals and Super-Y teams, will remain in the W-League, playing to the southwest of DC between Manassas and Dumfries. (See Tweet from @NovaRoyals)

– A new team, tentatively called Washington FC, will also play in the W-League. This team takes over the territory ceded by the former Washington Freedom and will play in the Freedom’s former home, the Maryland Soccerplex, northwest of DC in Boyds, Md.

– The Majestics ownership will be involved with this new team at the Soccerplex, with competitive controls built in to prevent any issues with player movement between the two teams. (Confirmed today with USL management.)

– D.C. United may also be involved with this new team, tentatively called Washington FC, but that cannot be officially announced as yet.

– Meanwhile … magicJack, the WPS team formerly known as the Washington Freedom, may yet hold the door open to play in the Washington area, though their home base will be in Florida. Borislow says he wants the team to play some in the D.C. area but is meeting resistance from Puma. (This from conversation with Dan Borislow today and Potomac Soccer Wire interview.)

– Coincidentally, Borislow’s MagicJacks won the U14 title at the Jefferson Cup, not too far from the Freedom’s former home. (But significantly closer to Manassas.)

Got it? You will be quizzed later.

Could D.C. fans find Freedom in W-League?

Here’s what we know about women’s soccer in the D.C. area and what we don’t know, all leading up to a couple of hypotheticals:

KNOW: The WPS team formerly known as the Washington Freedom is now magicJack’s Washington Freedom. Yes, magicJack … not magicTalk. Dan Borislow, the team owner, says the product name “magicTalk” will be changing.

DON’T KNOW: How many, if any, games this team will play anywhere near Washington. The schedule released today says the following: “The home venue for magicJack’s Washington Freedom will be Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. The team might play one or two of its home games in the Washington, D.C. area.”

KNOW: Barring an unexpected construction surge, the team will break the record for smallest WPS crowd. Our Game contacted the university’s assistant director for facilities, Mitch Silverman, who said the team would play all of its games at an on-campus stadium that would hold 1,200-1,500 fans. By my hasty calculations scanning through the 2010 and 2009 results, the current record is 1,878.

DON’T KNOW: Whether anyone in South Florida has noticed that they’re getting a soccer team loaded with some of the best women’s soccer players anywhere (Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx). General news searches for “freedom wambach” and “freedom ‘florida atlantic'” turned up nothing. A search for team owner “Borislow” turned up nothing at the Miami Herald and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel sites. And these are papers with excellent soccer reporters. That’s how quietly Borislow is doing things.

KNOW: The Maryland SoccerPlex, the Freedom’s home for the last seven years, will be the home field for the W-League’s Washington FC.

DON’T KNOW: Who owns Washington FC. (Yes, I’m looking into it.)

KNOW: Borislow, who bought the Freedom from the Hendricks family (WUSA founders), owns the Freedom trademark and could be stuck with it thanks to the complexities of uniform contracts with Puma. If he were to stop using that trademark, it could revert to WPS. But it’s a little murky from that point.

DON’T KNOW: Whether Borislow could sell or bestow that trademark to Washington FC. When asked if he would be willing to let a new club inherit the Freedom name and the Freedom’s relationships with youth clubs, Borislow said, “I would do anything to help youth soccer.” He wasn’t sure whether he could grant Washington FC the rights to the name.

KNOW: WPS has no leverage with Borislow. He most likely saved the league from extinction. If he hadn’t stepped up, WPS might not exist. And no one in the Washington area did it.

DON’T KNOW: Whether women’s soccer as a whole will be better off this way. I asked aloud on Twitter today whether fans would’ve preferred that the remaining WPS teams simply fold into the W-League, where they can play as professional teams. The reaction ranged from indifference to enthusiasm.

So is the best solution for Washington fans to hope that the W-League Washington FC is run by ambitious folks who can reclaim the Freedom name and build a team that could possibly jump into WPS if the league is healthy down the road? Possibly.

Can they do it?

We don’t know.