Report finds sexual misconduct and emotional abuse is ‘systemic’ in US women’s soccer | NWSL

A year-long independent investigation into abuse and sexual misconduct in women’s soccer in the US has delivered a damning verdict.

“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 read. “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.”

Examples of misconduct listed in the report included a coach showing a player pornography during what was supposed to be a game-film review and masturbating in front of her, and another who coerced players into sexual relationships. The report, headed by former deputy US attorney general Sally Q Yates, excoriated the National Women’s Soccer League and warned about potential abuse in girls’ soccer.

“This investigation’s findings are heartbreaking and deeply troubling,” said Cindy Parlow, US Soccer’s president and a former player on the US women’s national team. “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, 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. We are taking the immediate action that we can today, and will convene leaders in soccer at all levels across the country to collaborate on the recommendations so we can create meaningful, long-lasting change throughout the soccer ecosystem.”

The report found that teams, the NWSL and US Soccer failed to put basic safeguards in place for players.

“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 read. “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. Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent. And no one at the teams, the League, or the Federation demanded better of coaches.”

The investigation was commissioned after reporting by the Athletic in 2021 found widespread abuse of players – both sexual and emotional – in the NWSL.

The report also said that three clubs – the Portland Thorns, Racing Louisville FC and the Chicago Stars – failed to cooperate with investigators.

“The Portland Thorns interfered with our access to relevant witnesses and raised specious legal arguments in an attempt to impede our use of relevant documents,” the report read. “Racing Louisville FC refused to produce documents concerning [former coach] Christy Holly and would not permit witnesses (even former employees) to answer relevant questions regarding Holly’s tenure, citing non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements it signed with Holly. The Chicago Red Stars unnecessarily delayed the production of relevant documents over the course of nearly nine months.”

The investigators did not look at youth soccer, but the report warned about the risks of abuse there. “The roots of abuse in women’s soccer run deep and will not be eliminated through reform in the NWSL alone,” said the report.

The Guardian has also uncovered allegations of sexual assault and coercion in the college game in a series of reports over the last year.

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