West News Wire: According to a report released on Monday, an independent investigation into the scandals that broke out in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the United States last season discovered emotional abuse and sexual misconduct were systemic in the sport, affecting numerous teams, coaches, and players.
In her report on the investigation, former acting US Attorney General Sally Yates stated that “abuse in the NWSL is based in a wider culture in women’s soccer, beginning in young leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players.”
US Soccer commissioned the investigation by Yates and the law firm King & Spaulding after former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim came forward with allegations of harassment and sexual coercion dating back a decade and involving former coach Paul Riley. Their account was published by The Athletic in September 2021.
Riley, who denied the allegations, was quickly fired as head coach of the North Carolina Courage, and NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird stepped down.
But it was clear the problems were widespread. Five of the 10 head coaches in the NWSL last season either were fired or stepped down amid allegations of misconduct.
“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,” Yates wrote.
More than 200 people were interviewed by investigators. Some two dozen entities and individuals provided documents. US Soccer also provided documents and the firm reviewed 89,000 deemed likely to be relevant.
US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone called the findings “heartbreaking and deeply troubling”.
“The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace,” she said in a statement. “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.”
Numerous recommendations were made in the report to put player health and safety first. One of them is that in order to prevent coaches from changing teams, teams must accurately report coach misconduct to the league and the football organization. Additionally, it calls for prompt investigations into abuse claims and thorough screening of coaches.
Riley, Christy Holly of Racing Louisville, and Rory Dames of the Chicago Red Stars were the subject of the investigation.
It describes a meeting between Holly and Erin Simon, a player who currently competes in Europe, in April 2021. Holly invited her to watch game film with him and allegedly told her that for every pass she messed up, he was going to touch her. Simon told investigators Holly “pushed his hands down her pants and up her shirt”.
Simon, now with Leicester City, said too many athletes suffer in silence because they are afraid they won’t be heard.
“I know because that is how I felt,” the 28-year-old said in a statement.
“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.”
Holly was terminated, but Racing Louisville declined to publicly state the reason. Yates’s report noted that the team did not provide investigators with details about Holly’s employment, citing mutual nondisclosure and non-disparagement clauses.
Farrelly claimed that in 2011, when she was a player for the Philadelphia Independence in the Women’s Professional Soccer league, harassment started to affect her. Her trainer was Riley.
When she was a member of the Portland Thorns in 2014 and 2015, she revealed to The Athletic that Riley continued to assault her. Former Thorns player Shim also claimed to have encountered harassment. Neither lady is currently active in the NWSL.
While Riley was a member of the team in 2015, the Thorns said they looked into Riley’s background and informed the league of their findings. They did not extend his contract, but they did not disclose why.
The Thorns allegedly tried to stop investigators from accessing the team’s 2015 report and were not open with key facts, according to the report.
In an effort to prevent us from using pertinent records, “The Portland Thorns interfered with our access to crucial witnesses and offered spurious legal arguments,” Yates wrote.
Riley later became the head coach of the Western New York Flash, which later changed its name and moved to North Carolina.
When the scandal broke last year, former Thorns forward Alex Morgan posted a message to social media that read “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.”
Morgan added that Shim and Farrelly unsuccessfully requested a new investigation into Riley’s behavior from the NWSL early last year.
US Soccer announced that a leadership team and its board of directors will start putting the report’s recommendations into practice right away.
Parlow Cone stated, “US Soccer and the whole soccer community must improve. I have optimism that we can use this report and its recommendations as a crucial turning point for every organization responsible with safeguarding player safety. The soccer community as a whole needs change, and we are committed to bringing about that change.