NWSL investigation finds ‘widespread misconduct’ in ‘vast majority’ of teams

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 19: A general view of the National Womens Soccer League logo on the scoreboard during the first half of the NWSL football match 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)

A general view of the National Women’s Soccer League logo. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Warning: This story contains descriptions of alleged sexual misconduct and abuse.

A months-long investigation by the NWSL and its players’ union found misconduct within the ‘vast majority’ of clubs.

The findings of the NWSL, which have been summarized in a 125 page report released Wednesday, include new allegations of abuse against former Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley and new information regarding various firings and suspensions across the league.

It’s the second survey investigating abuse in women’s football this year. In October, former Assistant United States Attorney General Sally Yates released the findings of its investigation, which was run by US Soccer. Yates concluded that “abuse and misconduct had become systemic” within the NWSL.

Wednesday’s investigation by the NWSL and its players’ union came to a similar conclusion, saying “fouls against players have occurred at the vast majority of NWSL clubs at various times since the early years of the League until today”.

NWSL players reportedly felt discouraged to report a foul

Wednesday’s report said the players worked in an environment that “deterred them from reporting a foul”. Players were reminded that the league was fragile and unstable and they should be grateful to be there, according to the report. All of these factors have discouraged players from speaking out.

The report also contains a new allegation regarding Riley, who was fired du Courage last September after being accused of sexual coercion and making inappropriate remarks. The report details how Riley asked a Courage player to lose 14 pounds to stay a starter. She told investigators she acknowledged Riley ‘groomed’ her for sexual abuse after reading Athletic’s initial story about his abuse.

Former NY/NJ Gotham FC General Manager Alyse LaHue allegedly “made unwanted sexual advances to a player”, according to the report. LaHue was also accused of texting a player saying, “You were in my dream last night. Getting a massage” and “I don’t see us as friends.” LaHue denied those allegations in the report.

James Clarkson, coach and general manager of the Houston Dash, who will not see his expiring contract renewed after having been suspended in April, “communicated with players in a manner that created anxiety and fear for multiple players,” according to the report. The players told investigators they felt “frightened and attacked” after an encounter with Clarkson.

The report also claims that US Soccer has failed to investigate or resolve the issues within the league. He said US Soccer avoided taking responsibility for failures within the NWSL.

The report urged the league to strengthen its anti-harassment policy, create guidelines on appropriate ways to interact with players and require mandatory anti-bullying, anti-racism and anti-bullying training. anti-harassment, among other recommendations.

NWSL and NWSLPA release statement on investigation

In a joint statement along with the NWSLPA, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman apologized to the players for the league’s “failures and missteps”. Berman was hired in March after Lisa Baird resigned after the Athletic reported on allegations against Riley.

Berman agreed with the report’s findings, saying it shows “how our league has consistently failed to protect our players.” She thanked the players for showing bravery and courage and standing up for this investigation.

Berman called on the NWSL, the teams and US Soccer to come together to eradicate misconduct. She also outlined some of the steps the league has taken over the past 14 months to correct its failings. These include strengthening the league’s anti-harassment policy, an improved hiring process, hiring a player safety officer, implementing training for players, coaches and league staff and providing guidelines on player interactions, among many other procedures.

US Soccer releases statement after conclusion of NWSL and NWSLPA investigation

US Soccer released a statement Wednesday, stating that his “top priority is the safety of participants at all levels of the game.” He pledged to publicly unveil his plan to address all of the recommendations made in Yates’ report by January 31, 2023.

US Soccer said it would continue to review the results of Wednesday’s investigation and said the report’s recommendations “will inform our actions going forward.”

As we examine the NWSL/NWSLPA report, we look forward to better understanding the cultural and systemic dynamics that have led to abuse in women’s professional soccer. We anticipate that the information and recommendations in the report will inform our future actions and complement ongoing work by Yates’ Implementation Committee and US Soccer’s Participant Safety Task Force.

US Soccer remains deeply committed to ensuring that everyone in football – at all levels – has a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete.

The NWSL also plans to provide an update on its initiatives and on the next steps it intends to take to follow up on the recommendations of the Yates report. The NWSL said this update will come before the start of its 2023 season in March.

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