School Sports

Report Uncovers Abuse in Women’s Soccer

By:Nadia Liu


An independent report has found evidence of systemic abuse in women’s professional soccer, including sexual misconduct, verbal abuse, and emotional abuse by coaches in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), as well as the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) itself. 

“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,” reports Sally Q. Yates, a former United States deputy attorney general and the lead investigator. “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.”

This report was published Oct. 3, a year after players initially spoke out about abuse and refused to take the field. Soon after, the NWSL’s commissioner Lisa Baird announced her resignation and within three months, forty percent of the league’s head coaches had either resigned or been fired.

Although the report illustrates abuse from a variety of coaches, its narrative focuses on three coaches in particular: Paul Riley, Rory Dames, and Christy Holly. The report found that Riley — who formerly coached the Portland Thorns and later the North Carolina Courage — “leveraged his position” as a head coach to coerce players into sexual relationships. Dames, former head coach of the Chicago Red Stars and longtime youth soccer coach, fostered a “sexualized team environment” that in multiple cases “crossed the line to sexual relationships which may have begun before the age of consent.” In Yates’ report, the details of the accusations against Holly are publicized for the first time since his abrupt dismissal from Racing Louisville F.C. last year. The report details how Holly invited a player, identified as Erin Simon, in for a film session, then stated he would nonconsensually touch her for every pass she messed up. Alongside sexual misconduct, Holly’s accusations also include verbal abuse and mistreatment. 

The report found that in the case of all three coaches, officials and executives from the teams, women’s soccer, and U.S. soccer, despite being aware of the accusations, did little to address them or prevent further abuse. Furthermore, the NWSL and USSF failed to prioritize player safety and adequately address reports and accusations, allowing the abuse to continue. “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.” 

Although the report did not directly focus on youth soccer, it did include multiple instances of abuse, stating, “Players also told us that their experiences of verbal abuse and blurred relationships with coaches in youth soccer impacted their ability to discern what was out of bounds in the N.W.S.L.” The report recommended that the NWSL should be required to “conduct timely investigations into allegations of abuse, impose appropriate discipline, and immediately disseminate investigation outcomes.”

(Sources: NY Times, ESPN, CNN)

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