This is part one in a three-part series coming out of Ride of the Valkyries’ conversation with Reign FC CEO Bill Predmore. Future stories will include building out the Reign roster, and updates on OL Groupe’s involvement with the club.
In their press announcement introducing the club’s new head coach, Reign FC offered a detailed, transparent look at the process that led to the hiring of Farid Benstiti. It featured a breakdown of how many men and women they considered for the role, where those coaches resided, and who was consulted before making the decision.
For many fans, however, it felt like a significant, important detail was missing: one that addressed comments U.S. Women’s National Team player Lindsey Horan made about her time at PSG under Benstiti. Last fall, the midfielder shared with the Players Tribune that she was body shamed by the coach when she joined the team as an 18-year-old.
As someone who dealt with my own struggles around body image during my athletic journey — and still does today — Horan’s statement left me uneasy. I certainly wasn’t alone. The chorus of concern was evident on social media, and here in our comments section. And it was easy for that to build when the club wasn’t saying anything.
Bill Predmore, Reign FC founder and now CEO, has always been committed to being as transparent about his decisions as possible. He wrote an open letter to Reign fans explaining the reasons for the club’s move to Tacoma, and has always been willing to give reporters at Ride of the Valkyries the opportunity to ask tough questions about the club. The silence around the Benstiti rumors felt like a step back from this, but the reality was the news was still only a rumor until the formal announcement.
On Friday — the day of Benstiti’s announcement — Ride of the Valkyries spoke with Predmore to discuss Horan’s comments and how the club addressed them during Benstiti’s vetting process.
“When we found out about it, the first thing we did was talk to Farid to get his perspective on things. Reading the stuff that we did from Lindsey, we were concerned, and I wanted to hear what Farid had to say,” Predmore confirmed.
By this point, the team was pretty far along in their conversations with various coaching candidates, and Benstiti’s name was rising to the top of the list.
But Predmore certainly didn’t intend to let the conversation stop with Benstiti. It was important that he get the perspective of Horan and other players who worked with Benstiti in the past. The Reign spoke with Horan’s agent, as she was at national team camp at the time, to get the story straight from the source. Predmore also confirmed that he spoke to multiple players from Benstiti’s past, although he opted not to disclose the players’ names — sharing it was up to them on how public they wanted to be about their time with Benstiti. (Ride of the Valkyries has reached out to some of Benstiti’s former players and will provide updates as we receive them.)
For Predmore, every step was about getting as complete a picture as possible of who Benstiti is and what values he stands for. It is why he brought along an interpreter to ensure all communication about the issue was clear. Nothing vague or left confusing. In that conversation, after bringing Horan’s comments to Benstiti’s attention, it was evident the coach had not seen the video and had no recollection of the interaction or idea Horan felt that way.
Benstiti, Predmore shared, was devastated. “She is someone he cares very much about, and they’re still in touch. It was just not something he realized or understood.”
At this point in our hour-long conversation, I cringed at those words. Perhaps you are doing the same, muttering that not knowing you offended someone still doesn’t dismiss the impact it has. It felt like Predmore shared that sentiment as well, as he was quick to note, unprompted, that intent doesn’t excuse any part of the story.
“It is very clear that Lindsey left that conversation feeling terrible about it,” Predmore said. “Regardless of intent, regardless of other factors, ultimately that communication made Lindsey feel terrible, and we all have to take responsibility for the interactions we have with other people.”
Predmore had no interest in making excuses for the interaction — like the idea that this might have been the result of a language barrier, or the fact that the French are often more direct than Americans, some common defenses that have popped up in light of this news. “If we make people feel bad about things, we need to take responsibility for that.”
At the end of the day, the most important thing for Predmore to uncover during this vetting process was whether the values and culture he and Teresa wove into the club’s DNA would remain — like treating the players as if they’re family, while also respecting them as professionals. That is why the senior players with the club, who knew and helped mold the organization’s culture, had as much of a right as Predmore to approve or reject their next head coach.
“If we were bringing somebody in, the most important thing was that the players are comfortable with him. In all cases, players were supportive of the decision to move forward with Farid,” Predmore confirmed.
After these conversations with Benstiti and individual players, Predmore concluded that “this was not a pattern of behavior or indicative of a larger issue with Farid.”
“I really do believe he is somebody that shares and embodies — and will live up to — the values we have as an organization. I think fans will find he’s a much more warm and inviting person than how he’s being portrayed right now.”
Jess Fishlock echoed this sentiment on Twitter on the day of Benstiti’s announcement.
Welcome to @ReignFC Farid !!— Jessica Fishlock MBE (@JessFishlock) January 17, 2020
I am excited to get back to the reign & start focusing on next season with the club & Farid.
I personally spoke with him a few weeks ago & think he will be a great fit for the club & the direction we now want to take.
Which is back to the top.
Predmore is hopeful that fans will feel the same about Benstiti once they meet him, and asked supporters to trust him as they have during previous club transitions.
“The most important thing I can do is to create a safe environment for these players to do their work in. I think I’ve demonstrated that I have a pretty good track record at picking head coaches and have a pretty good track record of building an environment that’s as player friendly as any team in the NWSL,” Predmore stated.
The appointment of Benstiti has resulted in speculation on social media over how much control Predmore has now that OL Groupe owns the team. He was quick to clarify that question, noting he kept OL Groupe informed of the hiring process, but it was his to lead. “I am making the decision. I am responsible for the outcome. And if I get it wrong, I deserve to be held accountable.”
Time will tell if Benstiti is indeed the right coach for Reign FC, or if Predmore needs to answer for his decision. Results on the field matter, of course, but more important will be Benstiti’s ability to maintain the culture and environment that the Predmores have established. Bill and Teresa set out to make Reign FC the best women’s football club in the world. That ambition extends from the field to the locker room.
“I spent as much time and exercised as much care and caution with this hire as I have with any other, and I would do nothing that I thought would have a negative impact on any of our players,” Predmore concluded. “It’s the sacred duty that we have — to create a space for the players where they don’t have any concerns that are affecting them from the outside, and certainly nothing from the inside.”