Saturday September 30, 2023

Report: NWSL, U.S. Soccer ‘Repeatedly Failed’ to Protect Players

  • Lengthy investigation showed “systemic" issues in treatment of players in women's and youth soccer.
  • Report reveals new allegations of sexual misconduct by former Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly.
Jon Durr/USA TODAY Sports
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A lengthy independent report detailed “emotional abuse and sexual misconduct” faced by players, mistreatment described as “systemic” beyond just women’s professional soccer.

The 172-page report by the law firm King & Spalding released Monday detailed not only NWSL’s lack of action to protect players, but also the failures of the U.S. Soccer Federation that are “rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues.”

“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 stated.

“As a result, abusive coaches moved from team to team, laundered by press releases thanking them for their service, and positive references from teams that minimized or even concealed misconduct.”

Former United States Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates led the all-woman investigative team that began its investigation after The Athletic reported allegations of sexual harrasment and coercion faced by NWSL players.

The September 2021 story focused on Paul Riley, who was fired by the North Carolina Courage after the article detailed harassment, inappropriate advances, and other misconduct that was allowed to continue at multiple stops during his coaching career.

The report detailed new allegations against Christy Holly, who was fired “for cause” as head coach of Racing Louisville in August 2021 even though the team said the change was mutual. 

Since Holly and the team entered into non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements, investigators were denied documents and the reasons for his dismissal were kept private.

According to the report, Holly told a player he was going to touch her “for every pass” she “f—-d up.” The player told investigators that Holly “pushed his hands down her pants and up her shirt.”

The report also stated Holly sent the same player “sexually explicit photos and messages, and demanded that she do the same.” Holly also asked the player to attend a film session at his house where she was shown “pornography” and Holly performed a sexual act in front of her. 

“The players who have come forward to tell their stories have demonstrated great courage,” Yates said in a statement. “It’s now time that the institutions that failed them in the past listen to the players and enact the meaningful reform players deserve.”

Yates’ team made a series of recommendations to increase transparency, including bolstering oversight of coach licensing.

“Establishing trust and confidence between the League, its players, and other key stakeholders remains a central focus for the NWSL, and we know that we must learn from and take responsibility for the painful lessons of the past in order to move the League into a better future,” the NWSL said in a statement. 

U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone said in a statement that “the gravity of these issues requires us to not simply ‘turn the page.’”

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