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Investigation Reveals Sexual Harassment of US Women Soccer Players

October 4, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Investigation Reveals Sexual Harassment of US Women Soccer Players
Portland Thorns fans hold signs during the first half of the team's NWSL soccer match against the Houston Dash in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola, File)

WASHINGTON — A yearlong independent investigation of U.S. professional women’s soccer released Monday reported widespread sexual and verbal abuse of players by coaches and league executives. 

The report recommended broad changes by the National Women’s Soccer League.

The investigation was led by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates on behalf of the United States Soccer Federation. It was based on more than 200 interviews of players, coaches and league employees.

“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.”

The report said the U.S. Soccer Federation should have responded more quickly to complaints about the abuse.

In some cases, coaches moved on to other teams with endorsements from their former employers and the public despite the fact they were involved in abusing female athletes, the report said.

U.S. Soccer asked Yates and the law firm King & Spalding to investigate after former professional soccer players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim lodged misconduct allegations against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley. Their allegations were published by sports website The Athletic in September 2021. 

Riley was fired immediately afterward. National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird was compelled to resign.

Riley denied the accusations, which the players described as a pattern of abuse stretching back more than a decade.

The players’ complaints touched off allegations by other current and former players of similar sexual and verbal harassment. They also prompted U.S. Soccer and more than two dozen organizations or individuals to provide documentation that was included in Yates’ report.

“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.

In the past year, five of the 10 head coaches for National Women’s Soccer League teams have been fired or resigned amid implications of misconduct.

The report recommended broad personnel changes for the league. It said teams should disclose coach misconduct to the league and U.S. Soccer to reduce the risk abusive coaches could move between teams.

It said abuse allegations should be investigated promptly. It recommends better vetting of coaches.

U.S. Soccer issued a statement about the report saying, “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.”

Some women soccer players or coaching staff said the Yates report came as no surprise to them.

One of them was Candice Fabry, a coach for the Kansas City Courage women’s soccer team. She was interviewed by the investigative team and wrote an opinion article for The Guardian news outlet about her experience.

“I told the investigators that none of the stories from the NWSL — which include reports of coaches sexually assaulting their players — were shocking for me or my peers, including those who left soccer behind decades ago,” Fabry wrote. “We knew the names that were mentioned. We saw these people abuse others in public and were always left imagining what might happen behind closed doors, where no one would step up to stop the perpetrators.”

In addition to stories about sexual advances by Riley, the Yates report discussed complaints about former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames and former Racing Louisville head coach Christy Holly, who is male.

An account from Louisville player Erin Simon says Holly called her in one time to review soccer game film and told her he would touch her “for every pass [she] f***ed up.” He then allegedly put “his hands down her pants and up her shirt,” the Yates report said.

Afterward, Simon “broke down crying,” it said.

Holly is accused of sending Simon sexually explicit photos and messages while asking her to do the same with him.

On another occasion, Holly reportedly asked Simon to meet him at his house for another film session. Instead, he showed her pornography and masturbated in front of her, the Yates report said.

The Yates report is one of two that is expected from investigations of abuse of female soccer players. The law firm of Covington & Burling is working on a separate investigation.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com and @TomRamstack

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