Widespread Abuse in US Womens' Pro Soccer League, Report Finds
NWSL players have urged the legal to take responsibility for systemic failures
An independent investigation into allegations of emotional abuse and sexual harassment in the US National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) published its findings on Monday.
The probe, led by former Attorney General Sally Yates, found that "abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women's soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players."
The sport's national governing body, US Soccer, commissioned the report after former players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim alleged in 2021 that coach Paul Riley had engaged in harassment and sexual coercion for years.
Riley denied the allegations but was quickly fired as head coach of the North Carolina Courage. NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned shortly thereafter.
However, it became clear that the problems were systemic and far greater than a single coach. Last season, five of the 10 head coaches in the NSWL were either fired or resigned following allegations of misconduct.
"The verbal and emotional abuse players describe in the NWSL is not merely 'tough' coaching. And the players affected are not shrinking violets. They are among the best athletes in the world," Yates wrote.
In response to the report, the league issued a statement that read in part: "We recognize...the trauma that many, including players and staff, are having to relive. We continue to admire their courage in coming forward to share their stories."
National Women's Soccer League Releases Statement in Response to the Sally Q. Yates Report Commissioned by U.S. Soccer.
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 3, 2022
"The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace," said US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone in a statement.
Athletes afraid to come forward
The report interviewed some 200 people involved with the NWSL, and investigators were given access to tens of thousands of pages of documents.
One incident described in the report concerns former coach Christy Holly of Racing Louisville. Former Louisville player Erin Simon detailed how Holly told her he was going to touch her inappropriately before proceeding to do so.
Simon, now with Leicester City in the UK, said many athletes are afraid to speak out for fear they will be ridiculed or ignored.
Although Holly was let go by Louisville, the report notes that the team did not provide investigators with reasons for his termination. The Portland Thorns, where Paul Riley was also once head coach, also declined to discuss the reasons for his firing.
US Soccer announced that it would immediately move forward with recommendations detailed in the report on ensuring player safety and well-being.
"US Soccer and the entire soccer community have to do better, and I have faith that we can use this report and its recommendations as a critical turning point for every organization tasked with ensuring player safety," Parlow Cone said. "We have significant work to do, and we're committed to doing that work and leading change across the entire soccer community.''
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