Investigation finds 'systemic' abuse of players, while NWSL, USSF remained silent

Investigation finds ‘systemic’ abuse of players, while NWSL, USSF remained silent

The National Women’s Soccer League and US Soccer failed to take action against “widespread” and “systemic” abusive behavior and sexual misconduct, according to a report released Monday by former US Attorney General Sally Q. Yates.

“And no one in the teams, the League or the Federation demanded better from the coaches,” the report of the NWSL’s year-long investigation stated.

Over the past two years, eight NWSL coaches, one coach who was also a general manager and one general manager have resigned or been removed from their positions following allegations of inappropriate actions. Eight were men.

OPINION: Thorns, Red Stars owners must go in light of damning report on NWSL abuse

The independent investigation report contained more than 300 pages detailing the allegations and recommending actions for the league and US Soccer.

Here’s what we know about the investigation and lack of player protection in the NWSL:

What happened?

In September 2021, The Athletic reported that former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim alleged that their former coach, Paul Riley, sexually harassed and coerced players for a decade. Riley denied the reports, but was quickly fired from his North Carolina team. A few days later, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned.

Incidents against other coaches in the league were reported before the public accusations against Riley, including the firing of Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke after allegations of verbal and emotional abuse and Racing Louisville FC coach Christy Holly, and a chain reaction throughout the league. .

Two days after the public reports of Riley’s misconduct, US Soccer retained Yates and King & Spalding LLP to conduct an independent investigation.

The investigation focused on three former coaches, Riley, Holly and Rory Dames of the Chicago Red Stars.

The investigation’s findings began with an account of an April 2021 encounter between Holly and a player, Erin Simon, who now plays in Europe. Holly invited her to watch the game video with him and allegedly told her that for every pass she missed, he was going to tag her. Simon told investigators that Holly “pushed her hands down her pants and up her shirt.”

The report also outlined allegations that Dames shouted profanity, questioned sex life and solicited massages from youth players during his time as coach of the Eclipse Select Soccer Club.

“We heard report after report of relentless and demeaning tirades; manipulation that was about power, not performance enhancement; and retaliation against those who tried to come forward,” the report says. “Even more disturbing were the stories of sexual misconduct. Players described a pattern of sexually charged comments, unwelcome sexual advances and sexual contact, and coercive sexual intercourse.”

In addition to allegations of abuse and misconduct by coaches, the report also stated that in certain situations teams covered up reported abuse by players, specifically in the case of Riley and his team at the time, the Portland Thorns. Some allegations date back to the league’s inception in 2012.

Last fall, players from NJ/NY Gotham FC, Spirit, NC Courage and Racing Louisville stopped six minutes into their games, linking arms in a circle at midfield. It was a league-wide outcry over the lack of player protection.

“The reckoning has already begun,” the NWSL Players Association said in a statement on Oct. 6, 2021. “We will not be silent. We will be relentless in our pursuit of a league that is worthy of the players in it.” “.

What did the report find?

Summary of Results:

  • Since the inception of the League, the teams, the NWSL and the USSF have failed to implement basic measures for player safety.

  • The abuse in the NWSL was systemic.

  • Abusive coaches spread from team to team, and even to US Soccer, because teams, the League and US Soccer failed to identify and inform others of coach misconduct.

  • A culture of abuse, silence, and fear of retaliation perpetuated the misconduct.

  • Players lacked job security and protection from retaliation, leading to more chilling reports of misconduct.

  • Abuse in women’s professional leagues seems entrenched in youth soccer.

The research included more than 200 interviews with current and former players, coaches, owners and front office staff. US Soccer also provided documents and Yates’ firm reviewed 89,000 that were considered likely to be relevant.

“Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, encompassing multiple teams, coaches and victims,” ​​the report says. “Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in the youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs the lines between coaches and players.”

Not all teams communicated during the investigation. The Portland Thorns “interfered” with access to “relevant witnesses and made misleading legal arguments in an attempt to prevent” the use of relevant documents. Racing Louisville FC refused to produce documents and did not allow witnesses and the Chicago Red Stars delayed the process of submitting the necessary documents.

Additionally, the investigation found that the teams, the NWSL and US Soccer failed to respond appropriately when confronted with player reports and evidence of abuse, as well as “institute basic measures to prevent and address” such behaviors.

What’s next for the NWSL?

Yates provided a list of recommendations for the league and federation moving forward. While under the current organizational structure, US Soccer has limited control over individual teams, the federation has oversight of the league. Yates recommended that the NWSL take responsibility for the teams and that US Soccer step in when necessary.

Yacht Recommendations:

  • Teams should be required to accurately disclose the misconduct to the NWSL and US Soccer.

  • to ensure that abusive coaches do not move from one team to another.

  • US Soccer should require meaningful investigation of coaches and, when necessary, use their

  • licensing authority to hold wrongdoers accountable.

  • US Soccer should require the NWSL to conduct timely investigations into allegations of

  • abuse, impose appropriate discipline and immediately disseminate the investigation

  • results.

  • US Soccer must adopt clear and uniform policies and codes of conduct that apply to all

  • Members of the organization and are in one place on the USSF website.

  • US Soccer, the NWSL and the teams must each designate one person within their

  • organizations that is responsible for the safety of players.

  • US Soccer should strengthen player safety requirements in professional leagues.

  • US Soccer should require the NWSL to implement a system to request and act annually

  • player feedback.

  • US Soccer must collaborate with its youth member organizations and other stakeholders

  • examine whether additional measures are necessary to protect young players

  • The NWSL must determine whether discipline is warranted in light of these findings and the findings of the joint NWSL/NWSLPA investigation.

What is the response from the players, NWSL and US Soccer?

In response, US Soccer said Monday that it will “immediately 1) establish a new National Participant Safety Office, 2) publish soccer records from SafeSport’s centralized disciplinary database, and 3) require a uniform minimum standard for background checks on all members of US Soccer. .”

US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone also issued a statement.

“As a former player, as a manager, as chairman of the national football governing body, I am heartbroken by the contents of the report, which makes it clear that systemic changes are needed at all levels of our game,” Parlow Cone said. “The abuse outlined in the report is completely inexcusable and has no place in soccer, on or off the field. Along with everyone at US Soccer, I am fully focused on the changes we will make to address the report’s findings and make football is safer for everyone.”

The NWSL said it was immediately reviewing the report. The league and the NWSL Players Association are also conducting an investigation.

“We recognize the anxiety and mental strain these pending investigations have caused and the trauma that many, including players and staff, are having to relive,” the league statement said. “Establishing trust between the League, its players and other key stakeholders remains a core focus for the NWSL, and we know we must learn from and take responsibility for the painful lessons of the past in order to lead the League into a better future.

“The joint and independent NWSL/NWSLPA investigation into misconduct against the league’s players is ongoing. We have asked the Joint Investigative Team to consider the recommendations set forth in the Yates Report in making its recommendations to the NWSL. Further We have asked the Joint Investigative Team to review, and investigate as necessary, the findings in the Yates Report upon completion of their report.”

Many players participated in an ESPN E60 documentary, discussing the league’s handling of player abuse and safety. The 90-minute episode will air Tuesday, October 4 at 7 pm ET on ESPN.

And the NWSLPA released a statement saying its joint investigation with the NWSL is ongoing and its goal is to “gather all the facts to inform evidence-based recommendations on how to advance the goal of a league focused on player safety.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NWSL, US Soccer failed to stop systemic abuse, investigation finds

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