Whistleblowers are crucial to a healthy society. They must speak out, as the future of the next generation relies upon them. They also need to be heard and, sadly, when they are not, the plight of the whistleblower becomes doubly lonely.
left her with no choice but to step away from a role she held dear
Jennifer Shahade is a chess champion, a poker champion and now, for the second time, a champion for those whose voices were not being heard. Having accused Chess GrandMaster Alejandro Ramírez of sexual assault back in February, she now believes that her position as director of the US Chess Women’s Program, a position she started in 2018, is untenable. Failures by the United States Chess Federation to properly react to the scandal have left her with no choice but to step away from a role she held dear.
Earlier today, Shahade wrote a lengthy article entitled “I Am Leaving US Chess” outlining her reasons for the decision. In doing so, Shahade is once again standing up for the truth, sacrificing a job that she loves because there is something rotten in the US Chess Federation, demonstrated by the way that it has handled itself these past seven months.
Allegations against Ramírez
Last February, Shahade posted a tweet publicly accusing Ramírez of sexually assaulting her on two occasions. She also stated that she was in contact with and had spoken to other alleged victims. The US Chess Federation and Saint Louis Chess Club both launched investigations and on March 6, Ramírez resigned his affiliation with both the Saint Louis Chess Club and the Saint Louis University chess team.
On March 7th, the Wall Street Journal corroborated Shahade’s claims in an article titled: “How Sexual Assault Allegations Against a U.S. Chess Grandmaster Went Unaddressed For Years.” Eight women in total have come forward to accuse Ramírez of making unwelcome sexual advances towards them since 2011.
I was hopeful, perhaps naively so, that I could help reset the pieces and forge a better future”
Shahade was hopeful that the mounting pressure on the US Chess Federation would lead to positive changes. “With the truth out, I was hopeful, perhaps naively so, that I could help reset the pieces and forge a better future within US Chess especially for our girls and children,” said Shahade in her article. However, instead of much deserved support, she was met with hostility and the suggestion that her public statements could jeopardize the process.
Chess.com and Lichess.org show support
In August, the Wall Street Journal published a follow-up article about how Chess.com and Lichess.Org had severed their relationships with the Saint Louis Chess Club. “Chess.com will not be providing support for, or coverage of, any Saint Louis Chess Club events for the foreseeable future,” said Chess.com’s Chief Chess Officer Danny Rensch, adding: “We are disappointed by how the leadership at the US Chess Federation has handled this entire situation and hope to see improvements in transparency and action.”
Harking to a difficult two-and-a-half year journey to bring attention to these incidents, Shahade shared the Wall Street Journal’s article and was clearly grateful for the support being provided by the two biggest chess platforms in the world.
Sadly, though, those badly needed improvements in transparency and action were not forthcoming and the final straw was the gob smacking choice by US Chess to stand by their decision of sending Ramírez to the Women’s Olympiad despite her repeated warnings. Today, Shahade announced her resignation from US Chess.
Lack of accountability
It didn’t have to be this way. The US Chess Federation could have responded with an immediate show of support to the alleged victims and a promise to fix a system which has been sadly lacking. Instead, there has been a profound lack of accountability. These allegations of sexual assault, including three against minors, were not only minimized, but met with a callous disregard, the organization more concerned with protecting its image than getting to the truth.
Shahade’s integrity has shone throughout these past seven months, and it would have served the federation well to have listened to her advice rather than ignore it. As a result, she was left in an impossible position and gave notice of her resignation:
I cannot currently lend my credibility to the organization in good conscience.”
“Based on what I’ve seen, I cannot currently lend my credibility to the organization in good conscience. This is especially true since I’ve become a de facto confidante for so many women and girls—making it essential for me to have faith in executive decision making and communication.”
Paving the way
Ultimately, the willingness to rebel from the expected norms and silent contracts of establishment comes from knowing that you can no longer allow the status quo to maintain, nor can you go against the truth. Shahade has undertaken that rebellion, first as whistleblower and now by resigning her station.
Speaking exclusively with VegasSlotsOnline News, Shahade said that “poker became an unlikely ally in this difficult struggle as the community and the game itself gave me the feeling of a net that would catch me both materially and psychologically if I was totally outcast from chess.”
For five years, Shahade used her role within the US Chess Federation to bring chess programming to thousands of girls in the country. There is no doubt that she will continue to be an advocate, organizer, role model, and spokeswoman for the game she loves. She has also pledged to leave the door open to her successor, still expressing an optimism that things may get better within the troubled organization.
“I wish the best for US Chess in making the necessary changes in the future,” said Shahade, “and to whoever takes over US Chess Women, know that my door is always open to chat.”
whether you’ve spoken up or not: know that to me, you are the important one”
Shahade signs off by expressing her admiration for “the Jane Doe’s who stepped up and broke the silence, to make the game safer for the next generation.” She also acknowledges any survivors who might be reading her post with a simple but devastating line: “….whether you’ve spoken up or not: know that to me, you are the important one.”
Shahade is right to feel betrayed by the US Chess Federation, but through her sincerity and the consistency of her actions, she has paved the way for meaningful changes. It now falls upon those at the upper echelons of US Chess to make those changes.