US Soccer players face systematic sexual and emotional abuse in NWSL, investigation finds

US Soccer players face systematic sexual and emotional abuse in NWSL, investigation finds

An investigation has found that emotional and sexual abuse was systematic in the National Women’s Soccer League following a number of scandals coming to light last season.

The independent review of the scandals discovered sexual and emotional misconduct affecting several teams, coaches, and players, the report released on Monday revealed.

Former acting US Attorney General Sally Yates wrote in the report 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”.

CBS Sports host Lisa Roman, who covers the NWSL, tweeted on Monday that “the year-long investigation by Sally Yates is out. The report looks into US Soccer and the NWSL about the years of abuse and ignored reports of inappropriate behavior by coaches. It’s disgusting. It’s horrifying. It’s devastating, heartbreaking and unimaginable. But it’s real”.

“If you chose to read the report, please do so with your own mental and emotional health as a priority. If it is overwhelming, I encourage you to stop reading, step away and to talk to professional if you need,” she added.

The co-founder of the Women’s Sports Exchange, Maggie Yan, wrote on the platform that “the Sally Yates report investigating the NWSL (and US Soccer) is so so heavy. The abuse and lack of action is outrageous + heartbreaking. The level of detail in the report is beyond emotionally heavy. Please take care, log off, vent”.

The investigation was commissioned by US Soccer and the review was carried out by Ms Yates and the King & Spaulding law firm, according to the Associated Press.

The investigation began after former players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim accused former coach Paul Riley of harassment and sexual coercion over the course of a decade. Their version of events was published in The Athletic in September of last year.

Mr Rilery rejected the allegations but was removed from his job as the head coach of the North Carolina Courage. The commissioner of the league, Lisa Baird, also left her job.

Five of the 10 head coaches in the league were fired or left their posts last season amid accusations of wrongdoing.

“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,” Ms Yates wrote in the report.

Investigators spoke to more than 200 people and around two dozen entities and people shared documents with the investigation. US Soccer also sent in documents, with 89,000 of them being considered relevant.

Cindy Parlow Cone, the president of US Soccer, said the report was “heartbreaking and deeply troubling”.

“The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace,” she added. “As the national governing body for our sport, US Soccer is fully committed to doing everything in its power to ensure that all players – at all levels – have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete.”

One of the multiple recommendations made in the report is that teams be required to reveal misconduct by coaches to the league and the soccer federation to make sure that coaches can’t simply jump between teams. The report also suggests better coach vetting as well as faster investigations into abuse allegations.

The investigation looked at three previous coaches – Mr Riley, Christy Holly of Racing Louisville and Rory Dames from the Chicago Red Stars.

In April 2021, the report states that Mr Holly invited player Erin Simon, now playing for Leicester City in the UK, to watch a game film, during which he reportedly said he was going to touch her for every inaccurate pass she made.

According to the report, Ms Simon alleged that Mr Holly “pushed his hands down her pants and up her shirt”.

She added that many players don’t speak up for fear of not being listened to.

“I know because that is how I felt,” Ms Simon, 28, said. “Through many difficult days, my faith alone sustained me and kept me going. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that no other player must experience what I did. This report allows our voices to finally be heard and is the first step toward achieving the respectful workplace we all deserve.”

She was terminated from her spot on Racing Louisville for cause, but the reason hasn’t been shared publically. The team also didn’t share the reason with the investigation, according to Ms Yates.

Ms Farrelly said her abuse began in 2011 when she was playing for the Philadelphia Independence in the Women’s Professional Soccer league.

Mr Riley was her coach at the time. According to The Athletic, Ms Farrelly alleged that Mr Riley continued the abuse when she was playing for the Portland Thorns in 2014 and 2015. Ms Shim was also on the team and also alleged that abuse took place. Both Ms Farrelly and Ms Shim have since left the NWSL.

The team said that they investigated the coach in 2015 and that they reported their findings to the league. While they didn’t renew his contract, they didn’t share their reasoning.

“The Portland Thorns interfered with our access to relevant witnesses and raised specious legal arguments in an attempt to impede our use of relevant documents,” Ms Yates wrote in the report.

Mr Riley then moved to the Western New York Flash. The team then moved, becoming the North Carolina Courage.

Former Thorns forward Alex Morgan wrote on social media last year that “the league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse”.

She added that Ms Shim and Ms Farrelly had requested another investigation into Mr Riley by the NWSL, but were rejected.

“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,” Ms Parlow Cone said, according to the Associated Press. “We have significant work to do, and we’re committed to doing that work and leading change across the entire soccer community.”

The NWSL said in a statement on Monday that they are “going to immediately review the Yates Report commissioned by US Soccer”.

“We greatly appreciate our players, staff and stakeholders’ cooperation with both investigations, especially during the ongoing season. We recognize the anxiety and mental strain that these pending investigations have caused and the trauma that many – including players and staff – are having to relive,” the league added. “We continue to admire their courage in coming forward to share their stories and influence all the changes necessary to keep moving our league forward.”

The league said that “the NWSL/NWSLPA joint and independent investigation into misconduct against players in the league is ongoing”.

The NWSL also stated that “establishing trust and confidence between the League, its players, and other key stakeholders remains a central focus for the NWSL, and we know that we must learn from and take responsibility for the painful lessons of the past in order to move the League into a better future”.