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An independent investigation into the scandals that broke out in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) last season found that emotional abuse and sexual misconduct was systemic in sport, affecting multiple teams, coaches and players, according to a report released on Monday. .

“Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture of women’s football, beginning with the youth leagues, which normalizes verbally abusive practices and blurs the lines between coaches and players,” the former attorney general wrote. U.S. Acting Sally Q. Yates in her report on the investigation. .

US Soccer commissioned the investigation by Yates and law firm King & Spaulding after former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and coercion dating back a decade involving the former coach Paul Riley. Their account was published by The Athletic in September 2021.

Riley, who denied the allegations, was promptly fired as head coach of the North Carolina Courage, and NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned.

But it was clear that the problems were widespread. Five of the NWSL’s 10 head coaches last season were fired or resigned over allegations of misconduct.

“The verbal and emotional abuse described by players in the NWSL is not simply ‘tough’ training. And players hit do not shrink violets. They are some of the best athletes in the world,” Yates wrote.

More than 200 people were interviewed by investigators. Twenty entities and individuals provided documents. US Soccer also provided documents and the company reviewed 89,000 deemed to be potentially relevant.

U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone called the findings “heartbreaking and deeply disturbing.”

“The abuses described are inexcusable and have no place on any playground, training center or workplace,” she said in a statement. “As the national governing body of 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.”

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The report made numerous recommendations to prioritize the health and safety of players. Among them is the requirement that teams accurately disclose coaches’ misconduct to the league and football federation to ensure that coaches are not allowed to move between teams. He also calls for a thorough vetting of coaches and a timely investigation into allegations of abuse.

The NWSL said it was reviewing the report. The league and the NWSL Players Association are also investigating.

“We recognize the anxiety and mental strain these ongoing investigations have caused and the trauma many – including players and staff – have to relive. We continue to admire their courage to come forward to share their stories and influence all changes necessary to continue moving our league forward,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “Building trust between the league, its players and other key stakeholders remains a central goal for the NWSL, and we know we must learn and take responsibility for the painful lessons of the past in order to move the League towards a better future.”

The investigation focused on three former coaches, Riley, Christy Holly of Racing Louisville and Rory Dames of the Chicago Red Stars.

It recounts an April 2021 meeting between Holly and a player, Erin Simon, who now plays in Europe. Holly invited her to watch the movie of the game with him and allegedly told her that for every pass she missed, he was going to hit her. Simon told investigators that Holly “shoved her hands down her pants and down her shirt.”

Simon, now with Leicester City, said too many athletes suffer in silence because they are afraid they won’t be heard.

“I know because that’s how I felt,” the 28-year-old said in a statement. “Through many difficult days, my faith alone sustained me and kept me going. I want to do everything in my power so that no other player suffers what I did. This report allows our voices to finally be heard and is the first step towards achieving the respectful workplace we all deserve.

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Holly was fired for cause, but Racing Louisville declined to publicly state the reason. Yates’ report noted that Racing did not provide investigators with details about Holly’s employment, citing mutual non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses.

Farrelly said the harassment she experienced began in 2011 when she was a player in the Philadelphia Independence Women’s Professional Soccer League. Riley was her trainer.

She told The Athletic that Riley’s abuse continued while she was with the Portland Thorns in 2014 and 2015. Shim, a former player for the Thorns, also said she suffered harassment. Neither woman currently plays in the NWSL.

The Thorns said they investigated Riley in 2015 while he was with the team and reported the findings to the league. They did not renew his contract but did not make the reasons public.

The report says the Thorns withheld certain information and tried to block investigators from using the team’s 2015 report.

“The Portland Thorns interfered with our access to relevant witnesses and raised specious legal arguments in an effort to prevent our use of relevant documents,” Yates wrote.

Riley then coached the Western New York Flash, which later moved to North Carolina and was renamed.

When the scandal broke last year, former Thorns forward Alex Morgan posted on social media: “The league has been made aware of these allegations on several occasions and has repeatedly refused to investigate these allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.

Morgan also said that Shim and Farrelly asked the NWSL earlier last year to re-investigate Riley’s behavior, but were rebuffed.

The United States Women’s National Team Players Association released a statement: “All players and employees deserve to work in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and abusive conduct. The USWNTPA salutes the courage of survivors, current players and former players who have come forward to speak out against the abusive practices that have become far too normalized in the NSWL and women’s soccer in general. At the same time, the USWNTPA is appalled that some NWSL clubs and USSF personnel obstructed the investigation; those who have not should immediately cooperate fully with the ongoing NWSL/NWSLPA investigation.

US Soccer said its board and a management team would immediately begin implementing the report’s recommendations.

“US Soccer and the entire football community must do better, and I am confident that we can use this report and its recommendations as a watershed moment for every organization tasked with keeping players safe,” said Parlow Cone. . “We have important work to do, and we are committed to doing that work and leading change across the entire football community.”

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