Players Say Former Red Stars Coach Rory Dames Was Emotionally and Verbally Abusive

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVNovember 22, 2021

CARY, NORTH CAROLINA - AUGUST 15: Head coach Rory Dames of the Chicago Red Stars sits on the bench before a game between Chicago Red Stars and North Carolina Courage at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park on August 15, 2021 in Cary, North Carolina. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Members of the Chicago Red Stars told the U.S. Soccer Federation of their concerns about the behavior of now-former coach Rory Dames as early as 2014, according to the Washington Post's Molly Hensley-Clancy.

"Over and over, according to interviews and confidential records reviewed by The Post, players had seen Rory Dames cross a line into what they believed was verbal and emotional abuse: controlling, berating and humiliating players, and breaking the boundaries of the player-coach relationship," Hensley-Clancy wrote.

Dames continued to coach the Red Stars until his resignation Sunday, one day after Chicago's 2-1 defeat to the Washington Spirit in the NWSL championship.

Neil Buethe, a spokesman for U.S. Soccer, provided a statement to the Post:

"We share the concerns about allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women's professional soccer and are addressing this matter with the utmost urgency. Ms. [Sally] Yates's investigation is well underway and her team has been given full autonomy, access and necessary resources to follow the facts and evidence wherever they may lead."

The NWSL Players Association responded to the story by saying "the system has failed us" and that "nothing short of a complete transformation of our league will suffice":

NWSLPA @nwsl_players

A statement from the NWSLPA on Rory Dames: <a href="https://t.co/ZxSm1QuF3x">pic.twitter.com/ZxSm1QuF3x</a>

Christen Press, who has made 155 appearances for the United States women's national team, spent four seasons with the Red Stars from 2014 to 2017. She told Hensley-Clancy that she spoke to then-U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati and other officials in 2014 about Dames creating a toxic environment and yelling at players in a harassing way.

Press said her concerns were dismissed:

"But Gulati dismissed her concerns, Press recalled, saying Dames's behavior was normal for a professional coach. Press, who said she had been told she needed to play in the NWSL to keep her spot on the national team, said she felt she had no choice but to return the next season."

U.S. Soccer examined the matter again in 2018 after Press filed a formal complaint, in part saying she thought Dames "emotionally abuses players" and "doesn't have a safe distance between himself and his players."

The federation interviewed Press and some of her former teammates in Chicago. However, other players said they were unable to meet with investigators despite wanting to do so.

Hensley-Clancy wrote that U.S. Soccer again "took no apparent action."

Beyond examining U.S. Soccer's handling of the allegations, the report detailed how Dames allegedly treated his players.

Per Hensley-Clancy, he questioned whether a player was a good mother because she wasn't communicating well in practice. He also allegedly directed personal attacks toward players. Two players said he told an Asian player she should've been smarter, and two players said he called one player from the Appalachian region "trailer trash."

Four of Dames' former players told Hensley-Clancy how they felt he crossed the line in terms of his control on and off the pitch.

"He asserts control like you're a little girl, not an adult woman," Press said. "When you can go out to a concert, when you can say something or you can't say something, when you can see your family. It felt like it's a disrespect that is related to gender."

The allegations come as the NWSL is facing a reckoning over the atmosphere it fostered for players over the years.

North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was fired after The Athletic's Meg Linehan spoke to Sinead Farrelly, who said she felt coerced into having sex with Riley as part of a relationship beyond what is typical between a coach and player.

Another of his former players, Mana Shim, said Riley once pressured her and Farrelly to kiss each other in front of him. She also said he invited her to his hotel room for an informal film session and was wearing only his underwear when she arrived.

Riley denied both allegations.

Hensley-Clancy also wrote a pair of reports on the Spirit, first detailing how former players said coach Richie Burke verbally abused them and made racially insensitive remarks on multiple occasions.

She followed up with an investigation into the Spirit's workplace culture, one that alienated female employees because of a toxic atmosphere.

Lisa Baird resigned as the NWSL's commissioner in October, and the league said it was creating "several critical investigative and reform initiatives to protect players and staff, and the environments in which athletes live, train, and compete to give athletes the agency and ability to safely report misconduct of any form."

U.S. Soccer also announced it was commissioning an independent investigation, which was referenced by Buethe in his statement.