[This is part nine of my long investigation into Ray Blanchette, Ray Damon, and the Women’s Indoor Football League (WIFL). For the previous installment in the series, read here. This article was originally posted on December 24, 2013, and was revised with new information on January 7, 2014.]
In the wake of the information that has come to light about Ray Damon and the shady operations of the Women’s Indoor Football League, a number of people once associated with the league have quickly distanced themselves from the WIFL. These people – largely good people who want the best for women’s football and its athletes – have issued statements on their resignations from the league.
We start with Jonathan Ragus, the league’s former President. He is the second man to resign from the league’s #2 role, following Alan Botwinick. Ragus sent me the following statement to publish here about the circumstances of his resignation from the WIFL:
I joined the Women’s Indoor Football League with the sincerest intention of helping to form the first successful semi-pro women’s football league. Recent events have revealed my efforts have been in vain and I have since resigned from my position as interim league president. I truly believed in the concept of a semi-pro women’s football league and it is with great disappointment that the venture to do so has not delivered on its promises.
I’d like to take this time to apologize to all of the women who signed up to participate in the tryouts only to have them continually postponed with no refund of your registrations made. Unfortunately I was not aware of this, at the time I was not affiliated with the league in any official capacity, though perhaps I should have learned about it after accepting the position as interim league president. This is not the way it should have been handled by the league and hopefully the league sees that and issues refunds to all of the women who are owed them.
I’d also like to publicly apologize to the players, coaches, sponsors and potential team owners who I may have encouraged to sign on to be part of this league and who spent a lot of time trying to make a go of it. Unfortunately, as with mine, all of those efforts were ultimately wasted.
Again, it’s with deep regret that we find ourselves at this point. I had high hopes for this league and worked hard to help turn the idea into a reality. Perhaps I was naive to believe the intentions of others associated with this venture were as sincere as mine and that is what bothers me most; that others were hurt by something I was affiliated with and the damage that was done to my professional reputation as a result.
Although I was pretty hard on Ragus in my initial post (largely for being Blanchette’s “bro”), he is a good guy who wants to do right by women’s football players. He’s also trying to crank out a living as a sportswriter for his 24/7 network of websites and podcasts, and as someone who does a little sportswriting himself, I can tell you that making a living as a sportswriter is an incredibly arduous task. I love sports, but it’s unbelievably tough to scrape out a living talking about it…so I salute anyone with the desire to try.
Other Front Office Resignations
While Ragus is the highest profile departure from the league’s front office (understandably so, since he was the highest ranking member of the league behind Blanchette himself), he is far from the only front office staff member distancing himself from the WIFL. Another person swept up in Blanchette’s (and yes, I may as well keep calling him that) WIFL scam – and another person I was unduly harsh towards – was the league’s former National Spokewoman, Cara Vargas. Vargas made the following statement resigning from the WIFL:
I am officially resigning from my position as national spokes woman and player from the WIFL and no longer wish to be associated with this organization. This decision has been looming for a few months now and is in the best interest of both my personal and professional affairs. I will continue to compete in other athletic arenas and appreciate the support of my friends and family.
I would like my photos and likeness removed from his “fan” pages. I have cut off all ties to communications and will likely need to inform ownership via legal documentation. Very disappointing as all players, potential players, and fans had hoped for something more than what is currently offered. This means there is room for something bigger and better to develop. It may take time, but everything happens for a reason.
Vargas has told me that she may give me a longer, more thorough statement after the holidays, but for now, that statement explains her departure from the league.
Other front office members have left the league as well. Staff writers Pete Richmire and Mark Staffieri did cut their associations with the WIFL. I have received word that April Brown, listed as the league’s graphic designer, is no longer associated with the league, either. Meanwhile, Melanie Newman, hired as the WIFL’s “sideline reporter”, issued the following statement:
This is an announcement that as of today, December 23, I am resigning from the WIFL. I am sorely disappointed that I had truly believed I had landed my first career out of college pursuing exactly what I want to do in life but this was not the case. I am disappointed with the outcome of the “league” and that with everything going on I was kept in the dark. I am not and never have been associated with the owner apart from supposedly being hired as the “league’s” sideline reporter. I also have never worked even once for the league and now I am left seven months after graduation in search of a new first chance with another broadcaster or team.
I wish Melanie Newman the best of luck in her search and I know she’ll have success…but she is the kind of person you feel particularly bad for in all this. She really saw the WIFL as an opportunity for advancement, and you can just sense from her statement how blindsided she was by Blanchette’s scam.
The WIFL’s Australian representative, Syrina Richardson, also issued the following statement:
I am officially resigning from my position as Australian Representative from the WIFL and no longer wish to be associated with this organization. This decision breaks my heart a little but sometimes things have to be done thank you for the support in this from my USA friends.
Richardson’s role with the WIFL was always unclear, as the league never actually defined what her responsibilities even were. But I’m sure that any reputable women’s football league looking to make connections in Australia would certainly benefit from Syrina Richardson’s involvement.
Finally, on December 24, the WIFL’s England representative, Ree Dawes resigned as well. With Dawes’ resignation, literally every member of the WIFL’s front office – other than Ray Blanchette/Ray Damon – has now left the organization.
Players and Coaches
Former WIFL players and coaches are abandoning the league in droves as well. The league’s most marketable player, Tia Knipper, made the following statement:
I have just made a very hurtful decision but I am resigning from playing in the WIFL. There unfortuanately were some things brought to my attention that have completely BROKE MY HEART and I had gut instincts about it for a long time. However, I need to do me and that’s all I can do. It’s best for me to just complete my schooling by PASSING the National Exam, and move forward with my life. I do have some news coming soon that will hopefully cheer me up. I thank each and every one of you for your support and this WON’T be the last of my football, I promise you that.
Effective immediately I have resigned from my position with the WIFL. For personal reasons, work and my children. I wish everyone the best of luck and Wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
As I mentioned before, Reeder has a very good reputation in men’s semi-pro football. He was also well-respected during his time in the LFL, but like many others, he eventually didn’t see eye to eye with LFL owner Mitch Mortaza (and that’s not a criticism). Hopefully Reeder will find his way back into the coaching ranks very soon.
Furthermore, I have received word that every single coach (including Marquette Smith and Mike Ochmanowicz) and player ever affiliated from the WIFL has now departed the league. I truly do wish each and every one of them all the best in their athletic endeavors.
Managing the Fallout
The upheaval in the WIFL has been so drastic that Blanchette blanked out the WIFL’s staff page. I’m going to guess that this was easier for him than keeping up with the wave of resignations within his vaporware league. Also, the league’s new Yardbarker site, WIFL 24/7, has gone down…likely due to its branding with Ragus’ website, 24/7 Sports Hub.
Yet the WIFL made its first Facebook update in five days yesterday, trying to quell the storm:
We have some big things coming up over the next couple of weeks. Big announcements and great stuff coming up. Stay tuned and everyone have a safe and happy holiday!
There are two things I love about this update. First, it immediately reminds me of Kevin Bacon in Animal House (“Remain calm! All is well!”) Second, it gives one of those classic WIFL empty promises by promising big things, big announcements, and “great stuff”, without any indication of…uh…what those big things are. The WIFL is always making announcements about how they’re going to make an announcement. Just let me know when you actually have something to report, already.
But remember…you can still buy the league for a mere $5,000 on eBay! (Plus $3.77 shipping, of course.) No bids yet, so you’re in the driver’s seat. Then again, Blanchette describes the WIFL as being in “brand-new, undamaged” condition.
There are probably a few people who would argue with that.
[For the next installment in my series investigating the WIFL, read here.]