An independent investigation has uncovered abuse and misconduct in women’s professional soccer in the United States.
The report, led by former attorney general Sally Q. Yates, was based on more than 200 interviews and found that the United States Soccer Federation’s (USSF) Women’s National Soccer League did not provide a safe environment for players. .
“Our investigation revealed a league (NWSL) in which abuse and misconduct – verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct – became systemic, involving multiple teams, coaches and victims,” the report said. “Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, starting with the youth leagues, that normalizes verbal abuse coaching and blurs the lines between coaches and players.”
The report comes about a year after the 12-team NWSL plunged into chaos after a report detailing allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct against Paul Riley, who coached three NWSL franchises in eight seasons. The North Carolina Courage was released after the Athletics cited players in the record that, over the years, Riley used his influence and power to sexually harass players and in one incident forced a player to have sex with him.
Riley denied the allegations in the report. CNN could not reach Riley for comment.
In response to the report, then NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned and the league canceled all games scheduled for that weekend. By the end of the year, half of the league’s teams had parted ways with their coaches after player complaints, the Yates report said.
Monday’s report says sexual misconduct and abuse were far more widespread than single coaches or incidents.
“In more than 200 interviews, we heard reports and reports of undeniable and offensive tirades; power manipulation, not performance enhancement; and retaliation against those who tried to advance,” the report says. “Even more disturbing were the stories of sexual misconduct. Players described a pattern of sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and sexual touching, and coercive sexual intercourse.”
The league said Monday it would review the findings.
“We recognize the anxiety and mental strain these pending investigations have caused and the trauma many – including players and staff – must recover from,” the league said in a statement.
An investigation by the league, along with the players’ union, is ongoing, the NWSL said.
The Yates report includes first-hand accounts from players describing the abuses of coaching and team management.
In one case, a coach allegedly asked a player to review game footage 1-on-1 only to show pornography at his home. According to the report, the same manager “sexually coerced” that player and “grabbed and groped him in public, but out of sight.”
There are several allegations or findings in the report of sexual harassment and misconduct by coaches.
Excess coaches were allowed to move from one team to another despite complaints being filed against them, the report said, because leagues and federations feared the organizations would be named in potential defamation or labor lawsuits.
Yates recommends a public “list of individuals who have been disciplined, suspended or banned by the USSF, a member of the USSF organization, or SafeSport.”
The US Center for SafeSport is a congressionally chartered organization designed to end sexual, emotional and physical abuse in Olympic sports.
“This is very emotional for me, and I’m honestly having trouble absorbing everything in the report,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said in a video conference call. “I think it’s going to take some time to really read and think about the actions and inactions of some people and then we’re going to take some time to think about what needs to be done disciplinary-wise.”
Earlier, he said the U.S. Soccer Federation, as soccer’s national governing body, “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.”
The NWSL players’ association praised the players who cooperated with the investigation and spoke out about abuse and misconduct.
“As difficult as this report is to read, it has been even more painful for the Players, known and unknown, to experience it. We appreciate their efforts to seek the truth in support of our work to transform the NWSL,” the association said.
“These stories have inspired us to take part in collective action to achieve change. By sharing our stories, the Players are restoring the League and the sport,” added the association.
US Soccer began the investigation a year ago by hiring Yates and the legal firm King and Spalding to review the allegations, conduct interviews and recommend solutions. The federation says it gave Yates and the company full autonomy and access to produce a full and independent report.
A U.S. Soccer statement said the federation’s board of directors voted Monday to release the full report while preserving “the privacy and confidentiality of the victims.”