Following an investigation that found evidence of sexual coercion, verbal abuse, and sexual misbehavior by multiple league coaches, the National Woman’s Soccer League is in a precarious position.
The investigation also exposes the league’s administrators’ inactivity despite years’ worth of complaints from players.
The report was written by Sally Q. Yates, a former US attorney general. The organization decided to ask Yates to conduct a more thorough inquiry into the grievances raised by soccer players after the league was attacked by critical reporting from The Athletic and The Washington Post.
We can distill the main ideas from Yate’s report after carefully inspecting and analyzing the situations.
The crimes were systemic
Yates largely referenced the actions of Rory Dames, Christy Holly, and Paul Riley as NWSL coaches. However, the US Soccer Federation, teams, and the league were also complicit in the lack of accountability that contributed to the persistence of the abuses.
The study, however, went beyond focusing on the individual actions taken by the parties to link and bring up the topic of systematic abuse against women as a whole.
“Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct—verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct—had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims,” the report said.
“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.”
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Coaches still found other teams despite being guilty
Certain coaches were sacked by teams once they were exposed, but other teams continued to employ them. This only indicates that the punishment for the wrongdoings they committed had a minimal impact on their professional lives.
“[A]busive coaches moved from team to team, laundered by press releases thanking them for their service, and positive references from teams that minimized or even concealed misconduct,” the report added.
“Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent. And no one at the teams, the League, or the Federation demanded better of coaches.”
Declined to participate
Yates made many unsuccessful attempts to contact the other coaches, teams, or players who were implicated in the accusations. Additionally, other interviews that might have advanced Yates’ 300-page study on the issue were left out.
“Certain witnesses— including the former Commissioner of the NWSL, Jeff Plush—never responded to our outreach. Others refused to be interviewed, some because they feared retaliation. Still others—including former USSF Chief Executive Officer Dan Flynn—agreed only to respond to written questions rather than sit for an interview. Certain teams did not fully cooperate, notwithstanding public statements to the contrary.”
“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. Racing Louisville FC refused to produce documents concerning Christy Holly and would not permit witnesses (even former employees) to answer relevant questions regarding Holly’s tenure, citing the non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements it signed with Holly. The Chicago Red Stars unnecessarily delayed the production of relevant documents over the course of nearly nine months.”
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Yates argued that the lack of progress was not due to the players’ lack of valid complaints but rather to the authorities’ failure to act on the players’ concerns against abusive coaches.
“(Players) repeatedly brought their concerns to the teams, to the league, and to the Federation, which founded and acted as manager of the league during much of the relevant time period.”
“But those who were in a position to make a difference didn’t. They not only failed to respond appropriately to evidence of abuse, they had also failed to institute the most basic measures to prevent and address these issues, to begin with, even as some of them privately acknowledged the need for these things like an anti-harassment policy,” Yates said.
“Without these protections in place and without the transparency necessary to ensure misconduct wasn’t swept under the rug, abusive coaches moved from team to team.”
Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer