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NWSL Investigation: 'Ongoing Misconduct' Identified at 'More Than Half' of Clubs

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVDecember 14, 2022

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 19:  A  general view of the National Womens Soccer League logo on the scoreboard during the first half of the NWSL soccer game between NJ/NY Gotham FC and San Diego Wave FC on June 19, 2022 at Red Bull Arena in HArrison, NJ.  (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A joint investigative team appointed by the NWSL the NWSL Players Association and a jointly chosen retired district judge found "widespread misconduct directed at NWSL players" and "cultural and systemic issues" within the NWSL as part of the inquiry into allegations of abuse and misconduct.

The investigative team summarized its findings in a report released on Wednesday:

"Some types of misconduct against players, including certain instances of sexual abuse and manipulation, have already been widely reported. Other misconduct, which this Report discusses in detail below, has not received as much, if any, public attention. The Joint Investigative Team found, for example, that club staff in positions of power made inappropriate sexual remarks to players, mocked players' bodies, pressured players to lose unhealthy amounts of weight, crossed professional boundaries with players, and created volatile and manipulative working conditions. They used derogatory and insulting language towards players, displayed insensitivity towards players' mental health, and engaged in retaliation against players who attempted to report or did report concerns. Misconduct against players has occurred at the vast majority of NWSL clubs at various times, from the earliest years of the League to the present."

The report continued that the "underlying culture of the NWSL created fertile ground for misconduct to go unreported" and that "institutions meant to investigate and address misconduct failed to do so effectively." It also noted that the NWSL "has been influenced by sexism, racism, homophobia, and other biases" at both a systemic and individual level.

The NWSLPA released the following statement on Twitter after the joint investigative team's findings were released:

NWSLPA @nwsl_players

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

NWSLPA @nwsl_players

<a href="https://t.co/ZAlt68CfGx">pic.twitter.com/ZAlt68CfGx</a>

NWSLPA @nwsl_players

<a href="https://t.co/2LLbdf74ou">pic.twitter.com/2LLbdf74ou</a>

NWSLPA @nwsl_players

<a href="https://t.co/b4jCKUquys">pic.twitter.com/b4jCKUquys</a>

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman released the following statement on Wednesday:

"This report clearly reflects how our league systemically failed to protect our players. On behalf of the Board and the league, let me first and foremost sincerely apologize to our players for those failures and missteps. They deserve, at a minimum, a safe and secure environment to participate at the highest level in a sport they love, and they have my unwavering commitment that delivering that change will remain a priority each and every day. I also commend and am grateful for the courage current and former players demonstrated in advocating for themselves, their teammates and the future of our sport. Our players' bravery prompted this comprehensive and unprecedented investigation, which has left no stone unturned, and will be critical to informing our future as we work to heal this league, take corrective action and implement systemic reform. We are committed to making all the necessary changes to create a safe and positive environment for our players, staff and fans."

U.S. Soccer also released a statement:

U.S. Soccer @ussoccer

U.S. Soccer Statement: <a href="https://t.co/gjkqmE4c1t">pic.twitter.com/gjkqmE4c1t</a>

In October, U.S. Soccer released the findings of an independent investigation into women's professional soccer undertaken by Sally Q. Yates, which "revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct—verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct—had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims."

Wednesday's report largely focused on the allegations of abuse and misconduct that were levied at three former NWSL coaches: Paul Riley, Rory Dames and Christy Holly.

Kaleigh Kurtz told the committee that Riley followed a similar pattern in North Carolina that he followed with Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly—of sharing inappropriate details of his romantic and sexual life with her, asking about her romantic life and consistently pressuring her to lose weight, telling her, "I hope you know I'm doing this because I love you."

Farrelly accused Riley of coercing her into sexual acts in 2011 and 2012. Shim and Farrelly also accused Riley of asking them to kiss one night in his apartment, while they were drinking together, and in return said the team wouldn't have to run a grueling running drill that week.

But other coaches and executives were named in the report. One player said former Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke, for instance, made offensive racial and sexual comments, including jokes about Jewish people, and when questioned by the joint investigative committee said he didn't know there were Jewish players on the team.

Others named for committing potential misconduct included former Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue, former Utah Royals FC head coach Craig Harrington, Houston Dash coach and general James Clarkson, former Current head coach Huw Williams, former Dash head coach Vera Pauw, former OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti and the coaching staff of the Orlando Pride, including Amanda Cromwell and Sam Greene.

The report also provides a number of recommendations, including improving sexual harassment policies, setting guidelines for interactions between staff and players, providing training to coaches and staff, improving reporting procedures and establishing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.