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Illicit CP - January 2016

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"The Goalkeeper" blog, (The Philadelphia Inquirer), 18 January 2016

Spanking, dehydration and ignorance of concussions: New details about Peter Nowak's Union tenure

By Jonathan Tannenwald
Staff Writer


Nick Sakiewicz (right); Peter Nowak (center left)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images file photo Former Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz (right) fired Peter Nowak (center left), the team's first ever coach, just weeks after Major League Soccer named PPL Park as the host of the 2012 Major League Soccer All-Star Game.

After years of waiting, Union fans and observers across Major League Soccer now know the truth about just what happened during Nowak's tempestuous tenure as the team's manager.

On Tuesday, the federal judge presiding over Nowak's long-running wrongful termination lawsuit against the Philadelphia Union unsealed over 700 pages of evidence detailing acts of hazing and verbal abuse toward players, violations of federal labor law, and a range of acts barred by terms in Nowak's contract with the team.

The most eye-catching information is in a brief written by the Union's attorneys during the arbitration process. Among the team's charges:

- Nowak hazed players, most notably rookies, and most notably including spanking them, over multiple years. There were video cameras recording the episodes. Nowak's side countered this in its filings by claiming that former CEO and team co-founder Nick Sakiewicz approved of the activity before it happened, and condoned it afterward. The team disputed that.

These incidents and others ultimately caused Major League Soccer and the players' union to conduct investigations into Nowak's conduct. At one point, the players threatened to strike because of Nowak's contact. A top MLS executive also barred Nowak from being in contact with Union players, whose contracts are owned by the league. Subsequently, that executive requested that the Union fire Nowak.

So let's get to the meat. Here are excerpts from the various filings, sorted by subject. References to "claimant" are about Peter Nowak, and references to "Respondent" are about the Philadelphia Union.

You are warned that some of the language presented below is graphic. In addition, it is crucial to remember that each side's respective filings were, in part, attempts to establish their own versions of the facts. The arbitrator was tasked with deciding who was ultimately the most truthful, forthright, and legally correct. So I have separated statements within the subjects based on which side made them.


Hazing rookie players

From the Union's filings

Claimant brought the idea of spanking rookie players following training camps to the Philadelphia Union, as he had also spanked players when he was the head coach of DC United. Claimant admits that he participated in a practice following the training camps of 2010, 2011 and 2012 where players were spanked.

Claimant also admits that this practice included Claimant dipping his hand in ice water and then spanking the rookie players, sometimes choosing to hit the players with a sandal. Claimant further admits that [redacted] participated in the [redacted] training camp. At that time, Claimant physically spanked Mr. [redacted], who, again, was [redacted].

Importantly, Mr. Sakiewicz became aware of the "spanking" when he was shown a video of the ritual in [redacted].


Understanding this, as well as the fact that Claimant was actually physically hitting the rookie players -- to the point that an ice bucket was needed to numb Claimant's hands -- Mr. Sakiewicz, as soon as he and Claimant were alone, approached Claimant and told him that he did not want the "spanking" to happen again; he wanted Claimant to "cease doing it" immediately.

However, in March/April of [redacted], Sakiewicz found out that, contrary to his direct order to Claimant, the rookie hazing ritual -- including the spanking of a minor -- had again taken place at the conclusion of training camp in February of [redacted]. In other words, Claimant ignored Mr. Sakiewicz's direct order for to cease "spanking" / hazing activities.

From Nowak's filings

Mr. Nowak did not deny that rookie hazing took place during his tenure as manager of the Philadelphia Union, including joking, singing, dancing and paddling of rookie players. Mr. Nowak also testified that prior to engaging in this activity, he received pre-approval from former Philadelphia Union President Tom Veit and from Nick Sakiewicz.

He did not deny sticking his hand in an ice bucket between paddling. In fact, he indicated that a videotape was taken each year by his assistant coaches, John Hackworth and Rob Vartughian, in 2010, 2011 and 2012. He further testified that he was present when those videotapes were shown to Mr. Sakiewicz and others and that Mr. Sakiewicz loved it and never instructed him after to stop the rituals:

Q. Okay. And your testimony is that Nick Sakiewicz did not instruct you after 2010 not to conduct the slapping.

A. Absolutely not. He saw it with Richie Graham in the lobby in the hotel in Costa Rica. Like in Crete in Greece, the sponsors were there from Colonial Marble. His wife was there with his son Nicholas, the youngest son. As I said there was an investor, new investor, Rich Graham in the lobby. John Hackworth or Rob Vartughian showed the videotape or whatever the recording. That was every year he was with us and he saw it, what was happening.

Former Philadelphia Union Sporting Director, Diego Gutierrez, confirmed these facts, stating that he saw Nick Sakiewicz watch the video on a telephone and laughed. He further confirmed that Mr. Sakiewicz did not criticize anyone about the hazing.

Mr. Sakiewicz testified that in the 2011 pre-season he travelled to Greece with the team and that he was shown a video of the hazing. When asked about his reaction, he testified that while he was internally upset, because there were a lot of people around, he just "absorbed it."

He further testified that he "told Piotr that this wasn't something that we should do as a team; that I didn't want it to be done again; that it's not exemplary of the team that aspires to be at one time America's most admired soccer brand. And we agreed to disagree."

It is difficult to comprehend how Mr. Sakiewicz, who clearly was Mr. Nowak's boss, allegedly knew that Mr. Nowak disagreed with him, yet took no further action to ensure that the conduct was not repeated in 2012.

Hazing has been, from college fraternities to sports teams at any level, a bonding ritual engaged in with new members and rookies. While some forms of hazing can be dangerous (e.g. excessive drinking) the ritual followed by the Philadelphia Union was hardly in that category. To terminate Mr. Nowak for cause when no one in management made any real effort to enforce this non-existent "League rule" is a breach of the employment agreement.

Respondents' propensity for drama and overstatement is rampant throughout their brief and evidences their desperation to justify their improper conduct. For example, in discussing the paddling of rookie players admitted to by Mr. Nowak, the team goes so far as to attempt to analogize Mr. Nowak's paddling with hazing that has resulted in death.

Unless Respondents can identify some "death by paddling" incident, what relevance deaths in other hazing scenarios has [sic] to the alleged "hazing" at the Philadelphia Union is inconceivable, particularly given that there was no suggestion at all that the paddling had changed or escalated to some dangerous level over the three years in which it had been done at the Philadelphia Union. Moreover, there is no evidence that any player had even complained about the paddling.

Arbitrator's conclusion

... the hazing of rookies, by spanking them, sometimes with a sandal, was completely unacceptable. Mr. Nowak brought this practice to the Philadelphia Union. His description of what he did was quite unnerving, especially when he described how he put his hand in a bucket of ice water to ease his pain, obviously because he was hitting the young people so hard. In the [redacted] one of the rookies spanked [redacted].

I take notice of the fact that Mr. Sakiewicz was made aware of the hazing, and could have done more to stop it. I nevertheless conclude that the Claimant was responsible for, participated in, and encouraged his veteran players to participate in this deplorable practice.

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