The National Women's Soccer League created a culture in which players faced verbal, sexual, and emotional abuse from coaches, and the sport's leaders failed to respond adequately to anyone who raised concerns, according to an investigation released Monday.
The US Soccer Federation, the official governing body, had ordered the investigation, which was conducted by former acting attorney general Sally Yates, after the Washington Post and the Athletic reported on alleged verbal abuse and sexual misconduct involving several high-profile coaches. The articles rocked the soccer world: Some officials were fired while others stepped down, and several games were canceled at the request of players, citing years of pain.
Yates's investigation detailed the previously reported allegations as well as new ones after more than 200 interviews with current and former players, coaches, owners, and front office staff.
In a statement, Cindy Parlow Cone, president of the US Soccer Federation, said she was "heartbroken" over Yates's findings.
"The abuse described in the report is entirely inexcusable and has no place in soccer, on or off the field," she said. "Along with everyone at US Soccer, I am squarely focused on the changes we will make to address the report’s findings and make soccer safer for everyone. It will take all of US Soccer’s membership working together to create the kind of change needed to ensure our athletes are safe."
According to the report, then–head coach of Racing Louisville Christy Holly sexually abused player Erin Simon, sending her sexually explicit photos and messages and demanding that she do the same in return. When he requested that they review game footage at his house, he showed her pornography instead and masturbated in front of her, the report said. While watching game footage, Holly touched Simon's genitals and breasts every time the footage showed her making an errant pass, the report added, and other times, he allegedly grabbed and groped her. He was fired in August 2021, but the team didn't disclose why at that time.
While Paul Riley was head coach of the Philadelphia Independence, he allegedly coerced Sinead Farrelly and two other players into sexual relationships, according to the report. Throughout his tenure with NWSL, he also talked with players about sex and encouraged them to do the same, the report said. He was allegedly "fixated" on players’ sexual orientations and sent late-night texts and made "flirtatious comments" about their appearance. Riley was fired in September 2021 after the Athletic published its investigation.
While working with youth players at the Eclipse Select Soccer Club in the Chicago area, Rory Dames would often go on tirades and call the girls who played for him “cunts,” “fat ass,” “pussy,” “retarded,” and “bitches," according to the report. Once he got to the NWSL and began coaching for the Chicago Red Stars, several players reported Dames “created a hostile environment for players" and that he was “abusive” and “unprofessional." Dames later resigned after the Washington Post published an investigation in late 2021.
Even though players raised concerns in anonymous player surveys and made complaints, the teams, the League, and the US Soccer Federation failed to address the issues, according to the report.
Erin Simon, Mana Shim, and Sinead Farrelly, some of the victims named in the report, said in a statement that there has been too many years of inaction.
"No one involved has taken responsibility for the clear role they played in harming players — not the teams, not the league, and not the federation," the statement reads. "They chose to ignore us and silence us, allowing the abuse to continue."
The United States Women's National Team Players Association said in a statement on Monday that soccer players and employees deserve to work in an environment free of discrimination, harassment, and abuse.
"The USWNTPA commends the courage of the survivors, current players, and former players who came forward to speak out against abusive practices that have become far too normalized in the NWSL and women's soccer generally," the association's statement said. "At the same time, USWNTPA is dismayed that some NWSL clubs and USSF staff impeded the investigation; those who have not done so should fully cooperate with the ongoing NWSL/NWSLPA investigation immediately."
The National Women's Soccer League Players Association said in a statement that it supports the players who came forward detailing the abuse.
"As difficult as this report is to read, it has been even more painful for players, whether known or unknown, to live it," the statement said. "We appreciate their efforts to seek the truth in support of our work to transform the NWSL."
According to the letter from Cone, the US Soccer Federation's board of directors will share a plan for how it will act on the report's recommendations by Jan. 31. It will also immediately establish a new national Office of Participant Safety, publish soccer records from SafeSport’s Centralized Disciplinary Database, and mandate a uniform minimum standard for background checks for all US Soccer members.