Report finds NWSL abuses were more widespread than believed – The Washington Post

Report finds NWSL abuses were more widespread than believed - The Washington Post

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Abuse and misconduct were both pervasive and pervasive at the highest levels of women’s professional soccer, with the sport’s governing bodies and team executives repeatedly failing to heed warnings or punish coaches who abused players, according to investigative report released Monday by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The year-long investigation by Sally Q. Yates, the former acting attorney general, found that some of the game’s top coaches were the subjects of numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, including some that had not previously been made public. The coaches also relied on brutal training tactics, Yates found, including “relentless, degrading diatribes; manipulation that was about power, not performance enhancing; and retaliation against those who tried to come forward.”

“Players described a pattern of sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and sexual touching, and coercive sexual intercourse,” Yates wrote in the executive summary of her report.

U.S. Soccer hired Yates to investigate last year amid reports in The Washington Post and The Athletics of widespread allegations of abuse against coaches in the National Women’s Soccer League.

“Our investigation revealed a nexus in which abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — became systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches and victims,” ​​the report states. “Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, starting in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players. The verbal and emotional abuse players describe in the NWSL is not simply ‘tough’ coaching. And the affected players are no shrinking violets. They are among the best athletes in the world.”

Yates also found that the sport’s power brokers repeatedly failed the players by ignoring red flags and dismissing complaints. Both the NWSL and US Soccer “appear to have prioritized concerns about legal exposure to litigation by coaches … over player safety and well-being,” she wrote.

Rory Dames was accused of misconduct decades ago. He trained his way to prominence anyway.

“[T]he also failed to establish basic measures to prevent and address it, even as some leaders privately acknowledged the need for workplace protections,” the report states. “As a result, abusive coaches moved from team to team, washed with press releases thanking them for their service .”

While several allegations of abuse and misconduct have been published in media reports, Yates’ report opens with a previously undisclosed allegation involving Christy Holly, the men’s former head coach for Racing Louisville FC. According to the report, Holly requested a one-on-one film session with player Erin Simon in April 2021.

“She knew what to expect,” the report states. “When she arrived, she remembers Holly opening her laptop and starting the game movie.”

The coach told Simon he was going to touch her for every bad pass, according to Yates’ report, and “pushed his hands down her pants and up her shirt.”

“She tried to forcefully cross her legs and push him away, laughing to avoid angering him,” the report states. “The video ended, and she left. When her teammate picked her up to drive home, Simon started crying.”

According to the report, the Louisville organization declined to help investigators with any information regarding Holly’s employment, pointing to non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements signed with Holly. Louisville abruptly fired Holly on August 30, 2021, but never disclosed the circumstances surrounding his firing. “As a result, Holly’s misconduct remained largely unknown, including to anyone who might have sought to hire him as a trainer,” the report states.

“There are too many athletes who are still suffering in silence because they fear no one will help them or hear them,” Simon said in a statement Monday. “I know because that’s how I felt.”

The report was based on interviews with more than 200 people, including more than 100 players, plus coaches, owners and administrative staff from 11 current and former teams. But Yates’ team faced several obstacles.

Louisville has blocked both current and former employees from talking to investigators about Holly, the report says. The Portland Thorns, whose coach, Paul Riley, has been accused of abusing players, “interfered with our access” to witnesses and “raised sophisticated legal arguments in an attempt to prevent our use of relevant documents,” according to the report. And the Chicago Red Stars, whose coach, Rory Dames, has been accused of abusing professional and youth players, “unnecessarily delayed the production of relevant documents for nearly nine months,” the report states. Some witnesses, such as Jeff Plush, the former NWSL commissioner, did not respond to investigators.

The report focuses mostly on Holly, Riley and Dames, recounting allegations of sexual misconduct, violent behavior and coercive tactics.

During his time as head coach of the Thorns, Riley “sexually pursued” player Meleana Shim for months, the report states, “and sat down. [her] after she rejected his advances.” The team investigated, and the NWSL was aware of the allegations, but he was allowed to leave the team and take another coaching job in the league without the offense becoming public. The report also details a gender relationship, first reported by The Athleticthat Riley allegedly had with another player, Sinead Farrelly, and noted that the NWSL did not investigate a complaint she filed in 2021.

Both U.S. Soccer and the NWSL were aware of anonymous player surveys as early as 2014 in which players said Riley was “verbally abusive,” “sexual.”[t],” and “destructive,” the report states. Neither organization acted on those complaints, according to the report, which calls Riley’s behavior — which allegedly included grooming behavior, late-night texts with players and flirtatious comments — an “open secret.”

Shim’s complaint was received in 2015, and U.S. Soccer received additional warnings about Riley in 2018 and 2019, when he was considered for the head coach of the U.S. women’s national team.

Yates found that the NWSL received a series of four complaints about Riley in Spring 2021. “The League largely ignored the complaints, and instead, weeks before the publication of The Athletic article, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird actively tried to prevent Riley from resigning. his anger about the postseason schedule,” the report states.

Player inquiries in 2014 and 2015 also included allegations that Dames was “abusive” and “unprofessional,” warning that players would not “be as honest out of fear,” according to the report. National team players complained to former USA Soccer President Sunil Gulati and Jill Ellis, former head coach of the national team, that Checkers “created a hostile environment for players.”

‘No one cares’: NWSL players say US Soccer failed to act on abuse of Red Stars coach

But when the suggestions were shared with Arnim Whisler, the owner of the Red Stars, he said that the national team players wanted “this league to close” and simply had “an ax to grind” with Dames,” according to the report. Dames. abruptly resigned from the Red Stars last November, two days after coaching in the NWSL title game, as The Post prepared to publish story detailing players’ allegations against him. Ladies never faced a background check, according to Yates’ report, despite facing allegations of misconduct as a youth coach in the 1990s.

Holly has also been allowed to pursue other coaching work despite past allegations of abuse. He was forced to leave Sky Blue Football Club midway through the 2016 season due to his “verbal abuse” and his “relationship with a player”, according to the report. But the details never became public, and Holly went on to do contract work. for US Soccer, training with the under-17 and under-23 teams.

That experience helped Holly land the coaching job at Louisville in 2020, where, according to Yates’ report, he “repeated the same pattern of misconduct.”

The report says he sent Simon explicit photos. He asked her to come to his house to review a game movie, “and showed his pornography instead, masturbating in front of her before she left,” the report states.

“The findings of this investigation are heartbreaking and deeply troubling,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said in a statement. “The abuse described is unjustifiable and has no place on any field of play, in any training ground or workplace.”

The NWSL’s abuse scandal exploded into the public eye last year after reports in The Post and The Athletic led players to demand action from soccer officials. Games were canceled, five of the league’s 10 coaches resigned or were fired and Baird, the former commissioner of the NWSL, resigned. In the aftermath, US Soccer retained Yates and her law firm, King & Spalding, in October 2021 to investigate.

The NWSL and the players’ union have separately retained the law firm Covington and Burling to investigate. Early findings from that ongoing investigation have already led to temporary suspensions for Houston Coach James Clarkson, Orlando Coach Amanda Cromwell and Orlando assistant coach Sam Greene.

Yates’ report notes numerous systemic problems that have acted as barriers to players reporting abuse: The league did not have an anti-harassment policy until last year. Most teams lacked a human resources department. There was no independent, anonymous reporting line until last fall. Both the league and US Soccer did not have someone on staff responsible for player safety.

The report also highlighted cultural issues that remain prevalent in women’s soccer, starting at the youth level. The report states that players, coaches and staff have been “conditioned to accept and respond to abusive coaching behaviors as youth players. When they reach the professional level, many do not recognize the behavior as abusive.”

Further, it noted that the league did not adopt an anti-fraternization policy until 2018, and intimate relationships between coaches and players had “normalized”. It noted that coaches like Riley, Dames, and Holly all married former players.

The Yates report includes a series of recommendations, although it notes that U.S. Soccer has limited authority over league and team operations. The report urges teams to accurately disclose and explain misconduct to prevent other teams from hiring coaches and suggests that U.S. Soccer better engage with its licensing process, which could help “weed out problem coaches.”

U.S. Soccer should require the NWSL to conduct timely investigations into allegations of misconduct, and league and team employees should be required to participate. The report also recommends training for players and coaches and roles dedicated to player safety at the team, league and federation levels.

The report made no hiring recommendations, noting that Riley, Dames and Holly are all out of the NWSL. But Yates urged US Soccer to take steps “to prevent their future participation in the USSF landscape.”

Similarly, both U.S. Soccer and the NWSL have new leadership teams in place, but the report notes that many team owners remain in power. “Therefore, we recommend that the NWSL, which has governing authority over NWSL teams, owners and personnel, determine whether disciplinary action is appropriate for any of these owners or team executives, based on our findings and the findings of the NWSL/NWSLPA. Joint Research,” the report states.

An NWSL spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

US Soccer said it will immediately begin work on implementing Yates’ recommendations. The organization will establish a Participant Safety office, publicize records from the SafeSport database and require minimum standards for youth soccer background checks throughout the sport’s highest levels. It will also establish a commission that will focus on implementing these recommendations, led by Danielle Slaton, the former USWNT player, with an action plan by the end of January 2023.

“USA Soccer and the entire soccer community must do better,” said the USSF Cone, a former player on the U.S. women’s national team, “and I believe we can use this report and its recommendations as a critical turning point for everyone. an organization tasked with ensuring player safety. We have an important job to do, and we are committed to doing that job and leading change across the entire football community.”

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