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U.S. Soccer, NWSL failed to protect players from sexual and emotional harassment, investigation finds

2:56 PM EDT 10/3/22
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An investigation into the NWSL and U.S. Soccer has concluded that the organizations failed to protect players from sexual and emotional harassment.
  • Investigation finds multiple instances of abuse
  • NWSL and U.S. Soccer failed to protect players
  • U.S. Soccer announces changes

WHAT HAPPENED? The investigation was initiated following reports by the Athletic that detailed sexual harassment and coercion allegations against former Portland Thorns manager Paul Riley. The investigation was led by former attorney general Sally Q. Yates, working with law firm King & Spalding, and included interviews with over 200 personnel involved with the women's game in the United States, culminating in a 173-page report detailing the investigation into Riley, the Washington Posts' reporting on misconduct and alleged grooming by the Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames and allegations of sexual harassment against former Racing Louisville manager Christy Holly, who was accused of putting his hand down a player's pants and up her shirt during a film session.

THE BIGGER PICTURE: The investigation found multiple incidents of coach wrongdoing across the women's game, as well as a series of systems that enabled such behavior to continue for years.

“Teams, the league, and the federation not only repeatedly failed to respond appropriately when confronted with player reports and evidence of abuse, they also failed to institute basic measures to prevent and address it, even as some leaders privately acknowledged the need for workplace protections,” the report reads.

In turn, U.S. Soccer has announced that the federation will create an Office of Participant Safety, publish records to identify any individuals that have been disciplined and mandate standards for background checks for all USSF members down to the youth level.

AND WHAT'S MORE: The report stresses that the incidents weren't just sexual in nature, but also included threats to players' professional careers. Dames was among those found to have emotionally abused players.

"We heard report after report of relentless, degrading tirades; manipulation that was about power, not improving performance; and retaliation against those who attempted to come forward," the report continued.

The investigation calls for greater transparency on coaching hires and dismissals, including the elimination of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). It also has proposed the implementation of player safety officers that would submit reports on player safety and protocols.

WHAT THEY SAID: “This investigation’s findings are heartbreaking and deeply troubling,” said U.S. Soccer President and former U.S. Women’s National Team member Cindy Parlow Cone. “The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace. As the national governing body for our sport, U.S. 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. We are taking the immediate action that we can today, and will convene leaders in soccer at all levels across the country to collaborate on the recommendations so we can create meaningful, long-lasting change throughout the soccer ecosystem.”

THE VERDICT: It remains to be seen what will come of the report, with none of the coaches mentioned still working in the league. The investigation does recommend, however, that the NWSL look into executives and owners that remain involved.

"The NWSL should determine whether discipline is warranted in light of these findings and the findings of the NWSL/NWSLPA Joint Investigation," the report said.