After the results of an independent investigation into systemic emotional abuse and sexual harassment scandals in the National Women’s Soccer League were revealed Monday, players spoke out against owners who oversaw and allowed such abuse to take place.
The investigation, conducted by former U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and the law firm King & Spaulding, found that league-wide abuse was rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning with youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs the lines between coaches and players.”
“I believe that when serious charges are brought against you and you ignore us,” wrote Sydney Leroux of Angel City FC. “You should have absolutely nothing to do with this sport ever again. Period.”
The investigation began when former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim came forward with allegations of harassment and sexual coercion dating back a decade involving former coach Paul Riley. Their account was posted by The Athlete in September 2021. Riley, who denied the allegations, was quickly fired as coach of the North Carolina Courage and NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned.
It quickly became apparent that Riley’s case was not an isolated incident. Five of the league’s 10 managers in the league last season were either fired or resigned after allegations of misconduct.
One such example included Erin Simon, a former NWSL player now playing in Europe. Simon told investigators that former Louisville Rush coach Christy Holly invited her to watch game film with him and allegedly told her that for every pass she botched, he was going to touch her. Simon told investigators Holly “pushed his hands down her pants and lifted her shirt.”
Farrelly, Shim, and Simon released a joint statement blasting league leadership for allowing such routine abuse and misconduct to continue and for ignoring player complaints of wrongdoing.
“There have been too many years of inaction and too many empty promises while the players have suffered from the league. No one involved has taken any responsibility for the clear role they played in harming the players – not the teams, not the league, not the federation,” the statement said. “They chose to ignore and silence us, allowing the abuse to continue.
“It is time for action, responsibility and change. Owners who have led a culture of disrespect, who are complicit in the abuse of their players, have no place in this league and should be removed from management immediately. This will be the first of many necessary steps to finally make our voices heard and keep our players safe.”
The report made several recommendations to prioritize player health and safety. Among them is a requirement that clubs accurately disclose misconduct by managers to the league and the Football Association to ensure abusive managers are not allowed to move between clubs. It also calls for effective vetting of coaches and prompt investigation into allegations of abuse.
US Soccer said the board and a leadership team will begin implementing the report’s recommendations immediately.
“US Soccer and the entire soccer community must do better, and I believe we can use this report and its recommendations as a critical turning point for any organization charged with ensuring player safety,” said President US Soccer Cindy Parlow Cone. “We have important work to do and we are committed to doing that work and driving change across the football community.”