HomeSportsWomen's professional soccer league had systemic abuse and sexual misconduct, investigation reveals

Women’s professional soccer league had systemic abuse and sexual misconduct, investigation reveals


An independent investigation into the scandals that erupted in the Women’s National Soccer League last season found that emotional abuse and sexual misconduct were systemic in the sport, affecting multiple teams, coaches and players, according to a report released Monday.

“The 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,” wrote former Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates. in your research report. .

US Soccer commissioned the investigation from Yates and the law firm King & Spaulding after former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim filed allegations of sexual harassment and coercion dating back a decade involving former coach Paul Riley. His account was published by The Athletic in September 2021.

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Cindy Parlow Cone, president of the United States Soccer Federation, delivers remarks before the historic signing of the collective bargaining agreement signifying equal pay between the men’s and women’s national soccer teams at Audi Field on September 6, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Ira L. Black-Corbis/Getty Images)

Riley, who denied the allegations, was quickly fired as head coach of the North Carolina Courage, and NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned.

But it was clear that the problems were widespread. Five of the 10 NWSL head coaches last season were fired or resigned amid allegations of misconduct.

“The verbal and emotional abuse that players describe in the NWSL is not simply ‘hard’ training. And the affected players are not shrinking purple. They are among the best athletes in the world,” Yates wrote.

The researchers interviewed more than 200 people. About two dozen entities and individuals provided documents. US Soccer also provided documents and the firm reviewed 89,000 that were considered likely to be relevant.

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US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone called the findings “heartbreaking and deeply concerning.” The report recounts an episode from 2013, when Parlow Cone was coaching the Portland Thorns, in which she herself experienced an inappropriate comment from a team executive.

“I’ve been a part of this game my whole life, from youth to professional to international level, so the women’s game is really important to me. And I know a lot of the players in this report. I coached a lot of them. them,” Parlow Cone said. “I found it really maddening that players had to go through this.”

The report made numerous recommendations to prioritize player health and safety. Among them is the requirement that teams accurately report coach misconduct to the league and the soccer federation to ensure that coaches cannot move between teams. It also requires meaningful investigation of coaches and timely investigation of allegations of abuse.

US Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone and Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn and Sam Mewis of the United States sign the Collective Bargaining Agreement after a match between Nigeria and the USWNT at Audi Field on June 6 September 2022 in Washington, DC.

US Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone and Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn and Sam Mewis of the United States sign the Collective Bargaining Agreement after a match between Nigeria and the USWNT at Audi Field on June 6 September 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Erin Chang/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The NWSL said it was 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, have to relive. We continue to admire their courage in coming forward to share their stories and influence all the changes needed to continue.” moving our league forward,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “Establishing trust between the league, its players and other key stakeholders remains a core focus for the NWSL, and we know we must learn and take responsibility for the painful lessons of the past to make the league better.” future.”

Parlow Cone did not speculate on a possible discipline for teams in the league.

“This is really systemic, so the league is going to do what we have to do. US Soccer, we’re going to do what we have to do. But more broadly, we need to make sure that no team, no organization, no individual, any no executive is allowed to put players in the position they were put in,” Parlow Cone said.

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The investigation focused on three former coaches: Riley, Racing Louisville’s Christy Holly and Chicago Red Stars’ Rory Dames. The Associated Press has reached out to Thorns, Racing Louisville and the Red Stars for comment but did not immediately hear back.

The report recounts an April 2021 encounter between Holly and a player, Erin Simon, who is now playing 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 “did his hands down her pants and pulled up her shirt.”

Simon, now with Leicester City, said too many athletes suffer in silence because they fear not being heard.

“I know because that’s how I felt,” the 28-year-old said in a statement. “Through many difficult days, only my faith sustained me and kept me going. I want to do everything in my power to make sure no other player goes through what I went through. This report allows our voices to finally be heard.” listen and it is the first step”. towards achieving the respectful workplace we all deserve.

US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh speaks with US Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone and US Senator from Washington Maria Cantwell after a match between Nigeria and USWNT at Audi Field on September 6, 2022 in Washington, DC.

US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh speaks with US Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone and US Senator from Washington Maria Cantwell after a match between Nigeria and USWNT at Audi Field on September 6, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Holly was fired for cause, but Racing Louisville refused to publicly state why. Yates’ report noted that Racing did not provide investigators with details about Holly’s employment, citing mutual non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses.

Farrelly said the harassment she experienced began in 2011 when she was a player in the Philadelphia Independence Women’s Professional Soccer League. Riley was her trainer.

She told The Athletic that Riley’s abuse continued when she was with the Portland Thorns in 2014 and 2015. Shim, a former Thorns player, also said she experienced harassment. Neither is playing in the NWSL right now.

The Thorns said they investigated Riley in 2015 while he was with the team and reported the findings to the league. They did not renew his contract but did not make the reasons public.

The report said the Thorns did not come forward with certain information and attempted to prevent investigators from using the team’s 2015 report.

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“The Portland Thorns interfered with our access to relevant witnesses and presented misleading legal arguments in an attempt to prevent our use of relevant documents,” Yates wrote.

Riley went on to coach the Western New York Flash, who later moved to North Carolina and changed their name.

When the scandal broke last year, former Thorns forward Alex Morgan posted on social media: “The league was made aware of these allegations multiple times and repeatedly refused to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”

Morgan also said that Shim and Farrelly asked the NWSL early last year for a new investigation into Riley’s behavior, but were turned down.

The US Women’s National Team Players Association released a statement that said, “All players and employees deserve to work in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and abusive conduct. The USWNTPA commends the courage of survivors, players Current and former players who came wish to speak out against abusive practices that have become too normalized in the NSWL and women’s soccer in general At the same time, the USWNTPA is dismayed that some NWSL clubs and USSF staff impeded the investigation; those who have not should immediately cooperate fully with the ongoing NWSL/NWSLPA investigation.”

US Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone, Becky Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan of the USWNT celebrate the signing of the Collective Bargaining Agreement after a match between Nigeria and the USWNT at Audi Field on September 6, 2022 in Washington, DC.

US Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone, Becky Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan of the USWNT celebrate the signing of the Collective Bargaining Agreement after a match between Nigeria and the USWNT at Audi Field on September 6, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Jose Argueta/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

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US Soccer said its board of directors and a leadership team would begin implementing the report’s recommendations immediately.

“US Soccer and the entire soccer community have to do better, and I am confident we can use this report and its recommendations as a critical turning point for all organizations tasked with ensuring player safety,” said Parlow Cone. “We have a lot of work to do, and we are committed to doing it and leading change throughout the football community.”



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