Becky Sauerbrunn, one of the members of the U.S. women’s soccer team, said Tuesday that the players are angry and want immediate changes after an independent investigation found abuse and misconduct in U.S. women’s professional soccer.
On Monday, the U.S. Soccer Federation released a lengthy and scathing report commissioned by former attorney general Sally Yates, revealing that the National Women’s Soccer League, along with the soccer federation, failed to provide a safe environment for NWSL players.
Some of these players are members of the US national team, the World Cup champions. The squad is in London ahead of their match against European champions England on Friday.
“The players are not well. We are terrified and heartbroken and frustrated and tired. And we are really, really angry. We are upset that a third-party investigation was required,” Sauerbrunn said at the start of a scheduled media availability on Tuesday.
The two-time World Cup winner, sitting next to national team defender Alana Cook, lashed out at the lack of action since the allegations emerged in the media more than a year ago.
“For so long this has always been about demanding change from the players and that has been repeatedly not supported by people in positions of authority and decision-making,” he said.
Sauerbrunn, a 10-year NWSL veteran who is in his third season with the Portland Thorns, continued: “All the owners, executives and US Soccer officials who repeatedly failed the players and failed to protect the players, the legalities those who have hidden behind and those who have not participated fully in these investigations, should disappear.
“At the very least, the recommendations contained in the Sally Yates report should be implemented immediately by US Soccer and the league (NWSL).”
Cook, who plays internationally for the OL Reign, added: “It shouldn’t be up to us anymore. We deserve an environment where we can go out and enjoy what we do. We deserve to be in an environment that’s safe and supports that joy. ».
The report interviewed more than 200 players and staff with first-hand reports of abuse or misconduct in the league’s 12-team organization, which was founded in 2012.
“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 league plunged into chaos following an Athletic report detailing sexual coercion and misconduct against Paul Riley, who coached three NWSL franchises over 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 Athletic report. CNN could not reach Riley for comment.
In response to Athletic’s 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.
“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.
In the Yates report, players describe abuses by coaches 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 or unknown, to experience it,” 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.